Descend into the gloom of abandoned mines with researchers tracking bats and a deadly fungus.
At the entrance to one of seven mines in Washington County, Maryland. The mine complex is home to a number of species of bats that have fallen victim to white-nose syndrome.
One of the first bats Maryland DNR ecologist Dan Feller finds in the mine complex is a dead small-footed bat, a species that is rare throughout its range and state endangered in Maryland.
Getting into the mines requires rock-surfing down steep black-diamond slopes and squeezing through passageways.
By the end of the day, Feller has counted only 77 bats within the mine complex. Before the fungus hit in 2010, he would have expected to find nearly 400 total bats here.
Although most of the mines have steep entrances, most of them don’t require rope. To count the bats in one mine, however, Feller has to rappel into the darkness.
Feller points out the other mine dwellers to Nature Conservancy Conservation Ecologist Deborah Landau. In addition to bats, small, colorless, blind, shrimp-like invertebrates call these mines home.
Landau checks the ceiling of one mine for slumbering bats.
Other signs of life in the mines make them other-worldly. Graffiti marks some of the walls of this once-thriving limestone mining operation. Return to feature story >>