KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Some people think bats are just spooky creatures that fly around at night, scaring anyone who sees them. Others think bats are cute and look like puppies with wings.
Sunday marked the start of "Bat Week" in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, highlighting the many bats that live in the park. Some live in dead trees while others hang out in man-made structures like abandoned buildings and bat houses.
Visitors wandering around the park may also find a bat cave, but officials urged visitors to leave bats alone if they find a colony.
Officials with the park said that they are essential parts of the ecosystem. They make a snack out of pests while also helping plants pollinate, spreading their seeds so the mountains can grow lusher with trees.
Yet, officials are also warning that bats around the Smokies are being threatened by a fungus called 'White Nose Syndrome.' It was brought to the area from Europe in 2006 and has killed a large number of bat colonies. According to some reports, it may be responsible for 99% of bat colonies dying.
They urged visitors to also tell a ranger if they see bats acting strangely, so they can take steps to protect colonies and people. Federal officials also say that reducing pesticides can help bats survive, and so can putting up bat houses.