With abundant caves and forested hills, West Virginia is home to 14 bat species. Unfortunately, white nose syndrome, a highly fatal fungus, has been confirmed in Hellhole and other West Virginia caves, where large numbers of bats hibernate. Scientists are working to combat WNS and conserve bats -- fascinating creatures who help control insects, eating up to half their weight in bugs each night.
Little Brown Bats (Common)
Little brown bats might be the most common species in West Virginia. Their wingspan is 8 to 10 inches, and their bodies measure around 3 inches. Their diet includes beetles, flies, mosquitoes and moths; in one hour, a little brown bat can eat more than 600 mosquitoes. During the summer, they roost in buildings, caves, cliffs and hollow trees. Along with big brown bats, they’re the West Virginia bats most likely to end up in people’s attics. They spend their winters in caves, mines and tunnels. A large hibernating colony -- around 125,000 bats -- congregates in Hellhole Cave, and white nose syndrome has been confirmed in that population.
Big Brown Bats (Common)
Widely distributed throughout North America, big brown bats have a foot-wide wingspan and 5-inch-tall bodies. They feed mostly on beetles and live in barns, church belfries and trees. Big brown bats usually hibernate in caves, mines and even storm sewers, and they also have been affected by white nose syndrome.
Eastern Pipistrelle (Common)
Also called pygmy bats, Eastern pipistrelles are 3.5 inches tall with an 8- to 10-inch wingspan. During the summer, they live in buildings, caves, cliffs, forests and rock crevices. During the winter, they're among the most common bat species to hibernate in West Virginia’s caves. Eastern pipistrelles dine on flies, moths and other bugs.
Two species found throughout North America are considered uncommon in West Virginia. Red bats are around 4.5 inches tall and have a wingspan of more than a foot. They fly at speeds up to 40 miles per hour and, unlike most other bats, can hunt during the daytime. Red bats usually live in wooded areas. Silver-haired bats have a 10- to 12-inch wingspan and are 3 to 4 inches tall. They prefer forests and caves near water.
Evening bats prefer coastal regions. Researchers don’t know much about their diets, hibernation or behavior. With a 16-inch wingspan and a 6-inch-tall body, hoary bats are the state’s largest. Unlike many West Virginia species, they sometimes migrate south during the winter months. Federally endangered Indiana bats are around 3.5 inches tall, with a 10-inch wingspan. Around 18 West Virginia caves, including Hellhole, house hibernating winter colonies.
Another species that hibernates in West Virginia’s caves is the northern long-eared bat. Small-footed bats measure 3 inches tall and have only a 9-inch wingspan. A few individuals have been found hibernating in West Virginia caves. As its name indicates, the Virginia big-eared bat has ears measuring more than an inch long. They're federally endangered, and although they're considered rare in West Virginia, most of the population lives in the state.
Indiana, northern long-eared and Virginia big-eared bats have been exposed to white nose syndrome in Hellhole and other West Virginia caves.
Three other bats have been recorded in West Virginia, although they're very rare: Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, which resembles the Virginia long-eared bat; Seminole bats; and gray bats, another endangered species.
- West Virginia University Extension Service: Wildlife: Bats: Norma Venable (PDF)
- West Virginia Wildlife Magazine: Shedding Light On West Virginia's Cave-Dwelling Bats: Craig W. Stihler
- West Virginia Department of Natural Resources: What Are Bats? (PDF)
- West Virginia Division of Natural Resources: West Virginia's Most Important Bat Cave Has White-Nose Syndrome
- Bat Conservation International: What We Do/ White-Nose Syndrome: Affected Species