Beneath a town that was once home to author Mark Twain, thousands of endangered bats roost in the caves of an abandoned limestone mine.
The caves are part of the newly established Sodalis Nature Preserve in Hannibal, Mo., where Twain was raised, and they are now a protected habitat, thanks to a special conservation designation that will keep the land free of commercial and residential development.
The preserve spans 185 acres and is almost completely forested ─ all within city limits. In the middle of all of that forest is about 40 acres of land that, until it was shuttered in the 1960s, was the site of a limestone mine. Now, the caves where men and machine once toiled house an estimated 168,000 Indiana bats, representing about one third of the entire species population.
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During remarks at a recent "BatFest" dedication ceremony honoring the park's opening, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Michael Bean reminded listeners of the importance of bats as key predators of pests such as mosquitoes.
"They're also in trouble from threats like white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed millions of bats, including Indiana bats, across the United States," Bean added. "Sodalis Nature Preserve - the largest hibernation site in the world for Indiana bats - represents a milestone in conservation. Not just here in Missouri, but across the 22-state range of the Indiana bat."
Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) range across the southern and midwestern United States. Small (weighing about a quarter of an ounce), with black or dark-brown fur, the animal hibernates in the winter and in the summer takes flight at night to consume all manner of flying insects, among them mosquitoes, moths, and midges.