Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host several events for Bat Week, Oct. 25-31, to highlight the important role bats play in our ecosystem. Park rangers invite the public to visit bat information stations at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina and Sugarlands Visitor Center in Tennessee from 2-4p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30.
Bats are often considered “keystone species” that help with pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal. The park is home to 12 species of bats including the federally endangered Indiana bat and the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat which is a state listed species of concern in both Tennessee and North Carolina. Bats play a significant role in maintaining ecological balance as the primary predators of night-flying insects. Biologists estimate that an individual bat can eat between 3,000 to 6,000 insects each night including moths, beetles, and mosquitoes.
Forty percent of bat species in the United States are endangered or at risk and more than 5.7 million bats have recently died from white-nose syndrome. Bats are in grave danger from white-nose syndrome and the National Park Service is helping to protect these important mammals.
At the hands-on information stations, park visitors can learn about the many different species of bats, their importance to the world, and learn what the park is doing to protect the bats from white-nose syndrome. Participants will also be invited to create paper bat masks, bat airplanes, and receive free bat education material to take home.
In addition to these opportunities, the park will be partnering with students from Cherokee Elementary School and Pi Beta Phi Elementary School in Gatlinburg, Tenn. throughout the week to spread the word about bats through interactive lessons and activities.