Last month I accompanied Idaho Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Ross Winton and wildlife technician Randall McBride into caves north of Shoshone to monitor the local bat populations.
They wanted to learn why white-nose syndrome develops in certain caves and with certain bat species, to do that caves must be monitored for temperature and humidity, and bats must be counted.
White-nose syndrome is a disease of hibernating bats that has spread from the northeastern to the central United States at an alarming rate. The United States Geological Survey estimates that bat populations in the northeastern US have declined approximately 80 percent since the emergence of the disease.
Wildlife biologists in Idaho are attempting to learn about white-nose syndrome as the disease spreads to the West.
To find the bats meant lugging expensive camera equipment down narrow openings with rocks slick with snowmelt, and squeezing between crevices wide enough to fit one person crawling flat on their stomach.
As we entered the main section of the first cave, Winton and McBride suddenly became very quiet, signaling the presence of hibernating bats. I photographed Townsend’s big-eared bats and western small-footed myotis in groups of one or two. In their hibernating state I could get very close — close enough to admire their large ears and snubbed noses.
The second cave yielded an unexpected discovery. Winton and McBride took some time to turn over rocks while looking for invertebrates, which are rare in these caves. I turned over a rock and alerted Winton, who said I had found a diplurans. Back at the office I sent Winton pictures of the insect, and he said it could be a new record for the state, based on the scientific literature available. Excited at this possibility, I asked if I could name it. That right though, he said, is reserved for the individual that can classify it as a new species.