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Renovation Reveals Hundreds of Bats at Maryville College

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The college is turning the tricky discovery into an education treat by installing bat boxes to provide a new habitat for the animals and future research opportunities for students.

The renovation of historic Anderson Hall at Maryville College has revealed a massive colony of bats residing in the attic.

Construction crews began a $6.8 million renovation of Anderson Hall in June. The building is the oldest standing structure at Maryville College and stands as the iconic centerpiece of campus. The bell tower atop Anderson Hall is featured on the school’s logo.

“Anderson Hall is symbolic of the Maryville College environment,” said Dr. Drew Crain, a professor who teaches biology and wildlife photography at Maryville College. “We’re talking just after the Civil War, we came over and built Anderson Hall. Every student on Maryville College at some time or another is in Anderson Hall. Alumni come back to campus and the one building they want to go back to is Anderson Hall, which is why this renovation is so important.”

When crews began working where the bell tower tolls, they discovered the dark secret in the shadows of the attic and contacted Crain.

“I got my camera and we went into the attic. At first we didn’t see anything, but as we kept going back into the darker recesses of the attic a really high-pitched, high frequency sound started being emitted. Clearly, we were in the presence of bats. You would shine the light up and there were 30 eyes looking back at us. Then you started going down and there were hundreds and hundreds of bats,” said Crain.

Crain said the bats were entering the attic through the slats in the bell tower. The bats in the belfry are technically known as Big Brown Bats, a common species that can be observed up-close at the Knoxville Zoo. In the summer, female bats come together in colonies to develop and rear their young.

Those nursery colonies can typically range in size from half a dozen bats up to a couple of hundred animals. In the case of Anderson Hall, the estimate is somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 of the airborne animals adopted the attic as their nocturnal nursery.

“We were walking beam to beam, and all of the bats were in that space looking straight down. Then I could hear the wing-beats as they were flying by me. I was getting pictures from every angle I could. As for the photos, the ones that stand out to me are some of the close-ups with the curling of the lips where you can actually see their teeth. Some people might say it looks ominous. I think it looks like them smiling down at me,” said Crain.

Crain said there is reason to smile at the presence of bats because the animals are vitally important to the ecosystem.

“I always knew there were bats in Anderson Hall, although we never had any idea the magnitude in terms of the number of bats. But the animals were never causing any problems or getting into the offices. There’s a lot of hype and mythology about the danger of bats. The bottom line is bats are really really ecologically important. An expert was called to make sure that the bats were not harmed when they were let out of the building,” said Crain.

Source: WBIR

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