General

Volume 38, Issue 3, 2019

Bats of the Bootheel

Studying and protecting long-nosed bats in New Mexico


Perched high in the rugged mountains of southwestern New Mexico in the region north of the Mexican border known as the “bootheel” is a large limestone cave. The sparsely (human) populated region where the cave is located is home to a variety of animals including javelinas, raptors, bighorn sheep, the occasional jaguar and one of the most diverse bat faunas in the U.S. Several bat species call the cave home, including thousands of lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae), a species recently delisted from the Endangered Species List, and a smaller population of Mexican long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris nivalis), a species still listed as Endangered.

Here are some fast facts on this cool roost:

  • The main cave entrance is high up in the mountains at the bottom of a sinkhole.
  • It’s the only known cave in the U.S. used by both long-nosed bat species.
  • The New Mexico cave and Emory Cave in Texas are the only two known U.S. roosts of the Mexican long-nosed bat.
  • The long-nosed bats fly across the valley below to feed on agave up to 30 kilometers away.

Despite its remote location, this bat population faces threats to its primary food source—the nectar from flowering wild agave. Loss of agave is primarily due to agricultural and urban development and increased frequency and severity of wildfires. In addition, climate change is affecting the timing of the agave bloom, making them unavailable to bats during critical periods such as migration and while rearing young.

BCI is actively aiding these bats across their range through its Bats and Agave Initiative, which raises awareness about the role wild agaves play in the natural environment and their importance to bats, in addition to planting wild agaves to provide forage. Agave is essential for long-nosed bats from the southwestern U.S. to central Mexico along their migratory pathways and near their major roosts. BCI’s conservation team and amazing volunteers are planting wild agave in key areas and working hard to protect valuable agave-rich habitats.

BCI and one of its partners, XTO Energy, are also supporting research by Dr. Kathryn Stoner and Dr. Theresa Laverty to gain more insights into the ecology and behavior of bats. Dr. Laverty and BCI have installed a tracking system (PIT tags) that reads a tag placed on select bats in order to record data on the colony, including activity patterns and colony size. Similar tracking with a PIT-tag system is already under way at Emory Cave and other locations. BCI will utilize this data to map bat movement corridors and develop corresponding conservation plans. Every BCI initiative is a team effort, and this work is supported by:

  • Dr. Kathryn Stoner, Project Lead, head of the Wildlife Department at Colorado State University
  • Dr. Theresa Laverty, Conservation Scientist, Colorado State University
  • Dr. Winifred Frick, BCI’s Chief Scientist, who advised on setting up the PIT-tag system
  • Dr. Ana Ibarra, Mexican long-nosed bat expert
  • Marikay Ramsey, Jack Barnitz and Steven Torrez, USDA Bureau of Land Management
  • Dan Taylor, BCI’s Senior Restoration Specialist, and Mylea Bayless, BCI’s Senior Director of Networking and Partnerships, who have helped with project planning, logistics and field work.
    All of these dedicated conservationists are working together to protect New Mexico’s long-nosed bats as part of our ongoing mission to preserve bats and their habitats.

 

All articles in this issue:

Stay up to date with BCI

Sign up and receive timely bat updates

BCI relies on the support of our amazing members around the world.

Our mission is to conserve the world’s bats and their ecosystems to ensure a healthy planet.

Please join us or donate so our work can continue.