This Week Along the Parkway

Posts here and there about different species we have worked with in my internship with the Blue Ridge Parkway 


All photos are mine. Please ask before using or sharing.

July 17, 2014 – Bats

Poor bats, they get such a bad rap. From the hawt vampire movies instilling a fear in everything with “Robert-Patterson-teeth” to the myths surrounding bats’ behavior, these creatures definitely do not get the credit they deserve for their many important ecological roles.

“I am not Robert Patterson” – small footed myotis bat

Enjoy spending time outside without being eaten alive by mosquitoes? Bats are [one of many] that are to thank. Bats help to control insect populations by eating thousands of insects every night. One resource said that the amount of insects a single bat eats nightly is equivalent to their body weight (~1500 insects an hour.) All bats in the North America are insectivores. There are only 3 bats in the entire world that are “vampire bats,” (calm down) and they don’t suck blood. If you were travelling somewhere in South America, you might see a bat bite a cow and then lap it up. You might also be in South America and hencethustherefore not here. Moving on..

“Robert Patterson is not even that hot.” -Small footed Myotis

Bats are also pollinators for plants that depend partly or wholly on them to pollinate their flowers. (Mango, banana, cocoa and agave, just to name a few!) Like birds, they also aid in seed dispersal for a variety of plants. Bats also use echolocation to get around, meaning that they emit signals or “beeps” and listen for patterns and variations in the echoes that bounce back to them. That myth that bats like to get tangled up in human hair? Yeah, nope. In one study, bats’ echolocation system was sophisticated enough for them to dodge wires as fine as human hair. So impressive!

“I iz way cuter than Robert Patterson even when I iz upside down.” -small footed myotis

Lastly, bats are threatened due to many different human-driven factors, from environmental disturbance (ie: pesticides..) to WNS (White Nose Syndrome.) WNS has killed over 5 million bats since its discovery in New York in 2006. This white fungus typically develops on the faces of the bats in winter when they should be hibernating and causes them to become agitated and active. This activity causes them to use up their fat reserves and they eventually starve to death.

What you can do to help: Follow this link to see what you can do to help. If you are involved in research or hobbies that entail regular entry into caves, follow decontamination protocols to ensure that you do not spread the fungus to new sites.


June 26 2014 – Eastern Hellbender

[Getting too excited about our findings for the week at work, hencethus, I’m going to post a once a week summary of new species seen or fun facts about what we’re studying. From Flying Squirrels to Bog turtles, there is always something incredible to study here! This week: Eastern Hellbender!]

Hellbenders are one of only THREE giant salamanders found in the world and are completely aquatic. They occupy streams and prefer clear, fast-flowing and well-oxygenated waters. Because of this they can also be indicative of a streams health, as they need very clean, good quality water to live in.

c4dc3-img_0043Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis)

On average, hellbenders are 15 to 17 inches long, but some have been reported as long as two feet! They are nocturnal and rely on their great sense of smell and touch when hunting for crayfish and other small prey. 

This week along the parkway: HAYULLBENDERS
This guy was 50cm (or 19.5 inches)

Although once common in the mid-eastern United States, this species has been declining because of polluted waters, poor land use practices, over-collecting, and persecution due to common misconceptions. They are considered a vulnerable/a species of concern.

“im just a lil ‘bender wuts ur name” (brennen voice..)

Common misconceptions are that hellbenders are venomous and harmful to local trout populations. This is not true! Hellbenders are not venomous/poisonous and primarily feed on crayfish. Although they will rarely feed on fish, their diet consists mainly of crayfish, worms, and sometimes smaller salamanders.

Super glad we got to work with a research lab and the state to do these surveys. The masters students are doing an amazing job studying them to further understand and protect these incredible creatures. 


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