By Ethan Hatchett
Small, chunky and fast, the tricolored bat is an easy animal to like. Formerly known as the eastern pipistrelle, biologists who work with the species still refer it affectionately as “pip.”
The tricolored bat appears yellowish brown, but each individual hair in its fur coat has three colors: a brown tip, a yellow mid-section and a dark base. The species is one of the smallest bats in the eastern U.S., weighing less than half an ounce and sporting an average wingspan of only 13 inches.
While found throughout Georgia, the number of these bats is steadily shrinking at a rate scientists have found deeply troubling. This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the tricolored bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act
In winter, tricolored bats are one of the first species to enter hibernation. They roost and hibernate deep in caves, mines, tunnels and culverts where temperatures remain stable and the humidity high. Other bat species often cluster together. But during surveys, tricolored bats are easily spotted because they often roost individually.
After April, they take flight and roost in live and dead trees. Tricolored bats eat moths, beetles, midges and other insects. This species is one of the first to emerge from their roost, preferring to fly at dusk before it gets very dark.
Their pups are born in late spring and early summer. The species is usually solitary, with only reproductive females roosting in small numbers together. Female tricolored bats typically give birth to twins, which they leave at the roost while they hunt. In four short weeks, the pups are ready to join their mothers in flight.
Mating takes place at the end of fall. The females store the male’s sperm over the winter to have pups the following spring. In many cases, tricolored bats will make their way to the same hibernacula used the year before to wait out cold weather.
The tricolored bat is an irreplaceable part of Georgia’s natural heritage, but the species is in trouble. Degradation of their summer habitat, declining water quality and deaths caused by the whirling blades at wind farms have all played a role in the tricolored’s decline. Yet the biggest threat to the species’ survival in Georgia is white-nose syndrome, a disease fatal to bats.
White-nose syndrome has caused a 90-percent decline in populations of all cave bats in north Georgia since it was first documented in the state in 2013. DNR biologists have being working diligently to prevent the spread of white-nose, monitor affected populations, study the disease and raise awareness about its impacts.
The tricolored bat serves as a reminder that much is still unknown about our wilderness. The natural world is constantly shifting, with once stable populations of animals becoming scarce. Vigilance is often the first line of defense between a species and an unexpected catastrophe.
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to list the tricolored bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The species is state-listed as threatened in Georgia, yet federal listing would provide more significant protections.
The tricolored bat is a high-priority species on Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan.
This comprehensive conservation strategy for the state lists 640 animal and plant species as high priorities for conservation. The 150 conservation actions recommended, focus efforts where they’re most needed and most effective.
Congress requires an approved Wildlife Action Plan for state wildlife agencies to receive State Wildlife Grants, the main federal funding source for states to conserve nongame – animals not legally fished for or hunted, plus rare native plants.
The next revision of the plan is in the works. Conservation partners will again be critical to updating the strategy and putting its recommendations into practice.
Ethan Hatchett is a communications assistant in DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section.