The importance of bats in the Black Hills

CUSTER, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Nine species of bats are native to the Black Hills. While that information might creep people out, bats play an important roll in our ecosystem.

There are more than a thousand species of bats in the world and the rocky terrain, caves, and forests around Jewel and Wind caves are the perfect habitat for some of them. Nine different species live around the area and they're more active during the summer months.

A fact that might not thrill visitors.

"When I was younger, as with anybody they scared the dickens out of me. You know, they'd get stuck in my hair, and why would we want these creepy creatures, but as I've gotten older and learned more about them, one they eat a ton of bugs which I truly appreciate personally and they're just a really neat species to have," says interpretive programs manager Lydia Austin, Custer State Park.

Other bat species assist with pollination of plants and spreading seeds making them an important part of the ecosystem here in the Black Hills. Unfortunately diseases and a decrease in their habitat makes it difficult for them to thrive.

"In Custer State Park we started putting up bat houses because they were moving into all of our old buildings. We realized when you put a bat house up they came out of our old buildings and we were giving the habitat for that species and it was really neat to see them start coming," says Austin.

There still isn't a solution for diseases like White Nose Syndrome which wakes bats from hibernation causing them to starve from lack of insects, but bat houses can help solve the habitat problem.

"My husband and I have one bat house, but the bats didn't come to it so we think we're doing something wrong. So we wanted to come for the information and we know bats are an important species in the Black Hills so we want to encourage them as much as possible," says Mary Myers who lives just outside of Custer.