ST. CHARLES, Idaho – Idaho Fish & Game and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest Service recently did a combined bat study in Minnetonka Cave near St. Charles, Idaho. The scientists were evaluating the bat population and health of the populations in the cave.
“We go every winter and count bats in hibernation to find out how many are there and check their health,” said Chris Colt a wildlife biologist for U.S. Forest Service on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. “I have been doing it for the past five years or so.”
Minnetonka Cave has seven different species of bats. The population is growing, Colt said.
The seven common species of the bats found in the cave near St. Charles, Idaho are: Townsend’s big eared bat, Western small-footed bat, Western Long eared bat, Big brown bat, Long-legged myotis bat, Little brown myotis, and the Long-eared myotis bat.
The joint operation sent people quietly moving though the cave scanning all the nooks and crevices to find hibernating bats hanging on the rocks.
“We are very concerned about the health issues, especially a fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome,” he said. “There is no cure for the syndrome and it is really pretty devastating to bats.”
Samples were collected from the bats’ nose and wings and individual vials were sent to labs for testing. So far, they have not found any the bats with the virus.
Colt said it has showed up in caves in Eastern Montana and caves on the West Coast.
“We are trying to delay it the best we can,” Colt said. “If people have been in other caves they might bring the fungus with them on their cloths or shoes and infect Minnetonka bats.”
He said rabies are not a concern in the cave if you don’t handle the bats.
“There are a fair number of bats with rabies, but that is more if you find a bat and pick it up,” he said. “Bats are not going to fly down and bite someone.”
Rabies in bats are of the same concern as in raccoons and other animals.
“Bats are super important to the eco system. They eat a lot of insects at night like moths and mosquitos,” he said. “They are a natural biological control of insects.”
They do have a bat box near the cave. Colt said people can install one in their backyard to keep the insect population in check.
“If you are seeing bats in the evening, a bat box has a good chance of being used,” he said.
The rangers at Minnetonka Cave are still giving tours throughout the summer. Tours take about 90 minutes and they only take nine people at a time.
Anyone who enters the cave must wear a mask while they are in the cave. The masks are not only to keep people safe from COVID-19, but they also are to protect the animals in the cave. The cave is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., from now until Labor Day depending on the weather.