Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Illinois Caverns Reopens After Bat Disease Scare

A cave opening in southern Illinois. 
Click for image credit.
As I am sure many of my readers know, a bat disease called White Nose Syndrome, has been ravaging bat populations across North America--particularly the eastern half of the country. The disease is fungal and caused widespread bat mortality in many locations. It is believed that the disease is spread, in part by humans, from cave visits and exploration. As a result, many caves across the U.S. have closed in order to protect the bats. I wrote about this illness in this space way back in 2011.

We know we need to protect bats because they are key to our survival. They pollinate crops, eat pesky insects, and provide lots of Halloween fun (just kidding on that last one!). Lots of effort has gone into trying to understand the disease and stop the spread of it across our country. The National Speleological Society and their network of cave clubs, called grottos, have been leading advocates for cave conservation and the protection of bats.

Caves are part of a fascinating and magnificent landscape type called karst. Karst landscapes form in soluble rock, usually limestone, and have all kinds of fascinating features including caves, sinkholes, springs, and disappearing streams. White Nose Syndrome brought together an alliance of karst scientists and bat biologists to try to understand how to solve the problem. For more background on karst, see my 10 days of karst series here.

In some positive news, the Chicago Tribune is reporting that Illinois Caverns, the second largest cave in Illinois, is reopening after 10 years being closed due to concerns around the disease. The cave has a very small bat population and very few cases of the illness. 

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