DNR Updates: Scary Truth about Bats

Georgia Wild masthead: tricolored bat (Pete Patttavina, USFWS)


- "Ambassador"  sea turtle back in wild

- What's truly scary about bats

- Two-time turtle egg thief sentenced

- Locust Grove teacher earns conservation grant

VIDEO: ‘Ambassador’ LOGGERHEAD back in wild

Loggerhead Saxon (Connie Marcy, Jekyll Island 4-H)
Tidelands' Saxon the sea turtle before being released. (Connie Marcy/Jekyll 4-H)

After educating thousands on Jekyll Island, a young sea turtle is learning its way around the Atlantic.

DNR Nongame Conservation Section and 4-H Tidelands Nature Center staff released the 4-year-old loggerhead this month at an artificial reef 23 miles off Little Cumberland Island. The turtle sped away, then surfaced about every 10 minutes, said DNR technician Ashley Raybould, who videoed the release.

“We’re pretty confident he was just checking out his new digs.”

Nicknamed Saxon after the nephew of a Tidelands guide, the loggerhead spent most of its first four years at Tidelands and the Jekyll 4-H Center. When it hatched in September 2011 on Sapelo Island, Saxon was a straggler – a hatchling too weak to make it to the surf. Yet it grew into a centerpiece at the nature center and in Jekyll 4-H camps and programs, enjoyed by students and the general public.

Tidelands coordinator Dawn Zenkert said Saxon “was certainly an educational ambassador for sea turtles.”

When it came time to return this hard-shelled ambassador to the wild, its small size required an offshore release. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center gave Saxon a physical exam, and added metal ID tags on the loggerhead’s flippers and an internal PIT tag in case it’s seen again.

That’s more possible if it is a she (a sea turtle’s sex isn’t clear externally until it matures). If so and if she survives, Saxon would likely nest on Sapelo when she matures in about 25 years. Genetic research led by UGA has shown that female loggerheads often return to nest on the beach where they hatched.

But on Oct. 14, as Georgia 4-H environmental educator Rachael Thompson slipped the bucket lid-sized turtle into Atlantic, Saxon wasn’t looking back.

There was too much to learn about the new digs.

Watch the video.


- Sea turtles have strong instincts, and Saxon’s years in a tank aren’t expected to hinder the turtle's acclimation in the wild, Ashley Raybould explained.

- Artificial reef HLHA, the release site, is named after retired DNR Coastal Resources Division biologist Henry Ansley. One of the original artificial reefs created by DNR, HLHA’s structures – including 11 vessels and a few tanks – offer rich habitat (video) for loggerhead prey such as blue crabs, conchs and whelks.

- DNR is turning the corner on restoring loggerhead sea turtle populations! Read about the record nesting season this summer in Georgia. Help us conserve sea turtles and other native nongame wildlife.

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What’s truly scary about bats

Southeastern myotis roosting in Georgia cave (Alan Cressler)
Southeastern myotis roosting in a Georgia cave. (Alan Cressler)

Bats are big this time of year. Cutout silhouettes dangle off porches from Woodbine to Ringgold. Parties serve up bat cookies, cupcakes and wings – aka chicken wings.

But beyond the Halloween fun is a misunderstood and underappreciated animal.

Georgia is home to 16 bat species. Though shadowed by superstitions – some even positive – these and the 1,300-plus bat species worldwide fill unique ecological roles and provide significant ecosystem services.

Bats help:

- Our environment, eating insects, pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and providing nutrients through their droppings, key to at least one rare frog species.

- Our economy, controlling crop pests, reducing the need for pesticides and saving U.S. farmers an estimated $3 billion a year or more in pest control. 

- Our health: Though linked to some deadly viruses, bats double as protectors by consuming insects that can spread disease. They also serve as a source of medical advances, such as aids for the blind and insights that might be used to fight diseases.

If there is a spooky side to bats, it’s what they face: habitat loss, global declines and white-nose syndrome, a disease fatal to bats and blamed for killing more than 5.7 million bats in eastern North America.

As of last winter, DNR Nongame Conservation Section biologists had found WNS in nine Georgia counties and documented an 82-percent decline in populations at known bat hibernacula. Future surveys will show if the state will see the 95- to 99-percent mortality rates suffered at some northeastern sites.

On this Halloween eve, the prospect of far fewer bats is what’s really scary.


- Build a bat house. With the loss of natural roosts such as snags and hollow trees, houses provide needed habitat. 

- Get involved. Attend a National Bat Week event this week. Help DNR monitor roosts this summer. 

- Buy an eagle or hummingbird license plate. They cost only $25 more than a standard tag and as much as $20 goes, by law, to conserve nongame wildlife, including bats.

- Learn more about Georgia’s bats.

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A Locust Grove teacher’s vision of turning students into nature explorers earned a $1,000 teaching conservation grant from DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section. The annual grant, funded by nongame friends group TERN, goes to a third- through fifth-grade public or private school teacher in Georgia who demonstrates exceptional energy and innovation in teaching life sciences. Melanie Hartfield, a fifth-grade science and social studies teacher at Unity Grove Elementary, was picked for her proposal in which students will catalog wildlife on school grounds, create an e-book about the findings and even teach third-graders about the environment.

More than 8,000 lake sturgeon fingerlings were stocked in northwest Georgia rivers this year, with some 100 area students attending stockings and helping release fish (video). The Wildlife Resources Division’s Fisheries Management Section has been working to restore lake sturgeon, a federally threatened species, to the Coosa River basin since 2002.

Sentenced a second time for stealing sea turtle eggs, a Brunswick man will spend 21 months in prison, about a week for each of the 84 loggerhead eggs taken from a Sapelo Island nest. Lewis Jackson, 61, was on probation for stealing eggs at Sapelo in 2012. "I made a bad mistake," he told the U.S. District Court judge.

A green sea turtle nest on Jekyll Island was saved from high tides this week. Working fast as the surf surged, Georgia Sea Turtle Center staff moved the eggs farther into the dunes. Laid in late summer, the nest is the only one on Jekyll this summer for endangered green sea turtles, and one of five in Georgia.

The search for blackbanded sunfish is moving to the lab, where water from up to 30 south Georgia sites will be analyzed for the species’ DNA, a process called environmental DNA or eDNA. The project involving South Carolina DNR and Valdosta State University follows field surveys (Rare fish sought,” July 12, 2012).

Smallmouth buffalo and Dr. Brett Albanese
DNR's Dr. Brett Albanese with a smallmouth buffalo. (DNR)

South Chickamauga Creek in northwest Georgia is one of the most biologically diverse streams in the state's small part of the Tennessee River drainage. Recent sampling by Nongame Conservation and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute netted 34 fish species, such as stargazing minnow, mountain madtom and smallmouth buffalo, which can grow 24 inches long.

Endangered Species Act protection is not needed for the Cumberland arrow darter, Shawnee darter, Sequatchie caddisfly, American eel and six Tennessee cave beetle. The conservation status of these 10 southeastern species is stable, and in some cases better than expected, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A rare Henlsow's sparrow was banded Oct. 17 at Panola Mountain State Park. Listed below are dates for the bandings led by Georgia Important Bird Areas coordinator Charlie Muise at Panola's 250 acres of restored grasslands, a stopover site for grassland migrants like the Henslow's ("Mice with wings," April 9).

Want to see your wildlife art on Georgia hunting and fishing license cards? The Wildlife Resources Division is holding a contest to replace the current images -- a deer and bass -- on the plastic cards. Entries, due by Nov. 30, must depict an element of wildlife conservation in Georgia and native game or fish species.

Names in the news: The Board of Natural Resources recognized DNR Law Enforcement's Sgt. Chris Hodge with a Life Saving Award after Hodge performed CPR and resuscitated a driver seriously hurt in a wreck on Interstate 95. Darwin Huggins, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast region law enforcement office, received the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Guy Bradley Award for his work protecting wildlife and habitats.

Coming up:

Bird banding at Panola Mountain State Park: 6:50 a.m. Oct. 31; 6 a.m. Nov. 14, 21; 6:30 a.m. Dec. 5, 19. Charlie Muise, Georgia Important Bird Areas coordinator.

Nov. 13 – 2015 Outdoor Learning Symposium, Council of Outdoor Learning, Fortson 4-H Center, Hampton

Nov. 21Right Whale Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sea Walk Pavilion, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.

Jan. 29-30 – 28th annual Weekend for Wildlife (fundraiser for conserving Georgia's nongame wildlife), Cloister, Sea Island

Feb. 18-20Coastal Nature, Coastal Culture: Environmental Histories of the Georgia Coast, Coastal Georgia Center, Savannah

What you missed in the last Georgia Wild ...

- Disease reported in more Georgia snakes

- Misunderstood morning glories

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   "Georgia man gets 21 months for stealing sea turtle eggs," ABC (and others via AP)

   "Snake Fungal Disease strikes again in Georgia," The Wildlife Society. Also: Athens Banner-Herald (subscription), WABE-FM 90.1 (Atlanta)

  "Snail roundup in Kingsland," The Brunswick News (and others via AP)

   "More than 8,000 sturgeon stocked in local rivers," Rome News-Tribune

   "Conservancy took right steps," The Brunswick News

   "Forsyth County family, restaurant staff team up to aid injured owl," Forsyth County News

   "Hibernating bats mount a partial immune response against white-nose syndrome," Whitenosesyndrome.org

   "Sea turtles set new nesting records in Georgia, Florida," Naples (Fla.) Daily News

   "Hot on the Alabama trail of the elusive hellbender," The Wildlife Society. Also: Outdoor Alabama

   "Georgia Power aids sportsmen, wildlife," Atlanta Journal-Constitution (subscription)

   "Volunteers stream in to clean up the Flint River," Albany Herald

   "Little Tennessee River basin designated as nation’s first Native Fish Conservation Area," Knoxville (Tenn.) Daily Sun

   "Big Canoe Creek flowing free after 130-year old dam removed in Springville (Ala.)," Al.com

   "Animals spy a new enemy: drones," New York Times

   "Five sea turtles released on Jekyll Island," The Brunswick News

   "Study: Bats important to survival of rare frog, other species," University of Tennessee

   "Much-maligned bats keep bugs at bay," Outdoor Alabama

   "How we created a monster in the American Southwest (salt cedar)," Smithsonian.com


   "#tagwild rap," DNR

   "Sturgeon stocking," DNR

   "Timber rattlesnake at Warwoman WMA," DNR

   "Archive footage shows beavers parachuted from planes in (Idaho) relocation project," NBC News

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Georgia Wild masthead: tricolored bat (Pete Pattavina/USFWS)