published Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Maryville College bats get new home

Bats rest in the Anderson Hall attic on Aug. 8, 2013, before they were removed so the hall could be renovated.
Bats rest in the Anderson Hall attic on Aug. 8, 2013, before they were removed so the hall could be renovated.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Pennsylvania-based bat expert Merlin Benner, top center, attaches a leg to the bat condo with help Maryville College biology professor Dr. David Unger, left. The enclosure will provide a 4-foot by 4-foot wooden home for the bats displaced by the Anderson Hall interior renovation.
    Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A colony of bats at Maryville College in Maryville, Tenn., got a new home Wednesday after being displaced.

The bats, known as big brown bats, are a common breed in North, Central and South America. They were living in the college's Anderson Hall before construction on the building's interior began last June.

The college started removing the bats in August and has installed a bat condo to house them.

"The reason they were in Anderson Hall was [because] the tower has full sunlight and these long narrow rafters, and the bats would get up in there," said David Unger, an assistant professor of biology. "So when Anderson went through renovations the bats had to be removed. They put a one-way door in, so once they [the bats] left, they couldn't come back."

The condo was built and installed by wildlife biologist Merlin Benner and his Pennsylvania-based company, Wildlife Specialists.

This is the second effort made to accommodate the bats. The college installed 10 bat boxes in the campus orchards last November, but the new condo will house the bats better in the spring when they finish hibernating.

Right now, the bats are hibernating in groups of two or three under tree bark and siding. In the spring, they will come out and look for a place as a colony, Unger said.

"We now have an opportunity for a place for bats to hibernate in the winter in the form of the bat boxes, and we have a place for them to come together as a maternal colony in terms of the bat condo," he said. "We're providing them a whole variety of options basically to say, 'Come here, stay here,' because we want to have them as great neighbors."

The bat condo will present great opportunities for the bats and for students, according to Unger.

"It's a living, breathing, teaching tool for our students," he said. "They're going to be able to do senior studies and scientific research, looking at how the bats move and where they go to feed, what species are coming through, distribution patterns. Bats are suffering from habitat loss all over the country. We don't want to just move them out and set them off on their own. They are so important ecologically."

Thomas Moore, a Maryville College student, said he will begin working with the bats soon.

"This is going to turn into my thesis project," he said. "If we do get bats to inhabit the houses, it will give a good idea of the population of the bats we have in and around the area. I think it's cool, and I think it's cool that the school actually agreed to fund the project."

Contact Maggie Jones at 865-342-6336 or maggie.jones@knoxnews.com.

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