Bats at the Mine Hill Reserve

Circumstances have been keeping Pamelia, Rocky and me away from home this winter, but not from exploring—in this case the Mine Hill Reserve in Roxbury, Connecticut. The abandoned iron-mine shafts there have become one of the state's largest bat hibernation sites.

This mine shaft is caged in to keep people out but allow bats to come and go freely.

Though white-nose syndrome (a disease caused by a deadly fungus) has devasted bat populations in 25 states and five Canadian provinces since it first appeared in New York State in February 2006, Mine Hill's tunnels still host thousands of little brown, big brown, northern long-eared and pipistrelle bats (see photos below) in a dark, moist, 50- to 55-degree environment from fall to spring. Mine Hill is what biologists call a hibernaculum, or a place to hibernate. Roxbury has protected it through its highly successful land trust. 

Little brown bats belong to a genus called Myotis, meaning "mouse-eared bat." They're sometimes known as little brown myotises. Their population has been hit hard from white-nose syndrome.

Big brown bats are one of the bat species that catch insects with their wing membranes and then shovel the insects into their mouths.

Northern long-eared bats are now listed as a threatened species because of the impact of white-nose syndrome.

The pipipstrelle is a small bat that can eat as many as 3,000 insects in a night.

Scientists have made progress in finding a way to combat white-nose syndrome, but bat numbers continue to shrink. Too many humans still think of bats as scary rather than magnificent, as threats rather than threatened. Bats control insect populations naturally, unlike insecticides, and they're mammals, like us. In fact, they've been around in their present form longer than we have; the oldest bat fossils date back more than 50 million years.   

The history of Mine Hill is interesting too. In Mine Hill's heyday, in the mid-19th century, iron was extracted from the mineral siderite (the rock on the far left in Pamelia's hand in the photo below) by immigrant workers from Europe. The mine was later a source of granite, some of which was used on the 59th St. Bridge and Grand Central in New York.

These days Mine Hill's trails, groves of mountain laurel and impressive rock formations attract hikers, nature lovers and history buffs. As you can learn from its extremely well-done informational signage, Mine Hill is fascinating place for humans as well as bats.

The siderite (far left) was a source of Mine Hill's iron. 

Rocky and I checked out some of the rock formations.

Pamelia and I enjoyed Mine Hill's longest hiking trail.

Rocky did too.

Have you visited an interesting nature reserve or park recently? Or—perhaps more important—seen any bats in the last year?