The nearly 50 people taking the Sept. 28 night hike through Sodalis Nature Reserve were rewarded by watching a large colony of bats fly out of their caves.

The nearly 50 people taking the Sept. 28 night hike through Sodalis Nature Reserve were rewarded by watching a large colony of bats fly out of their caves.

“They were very close to us,” said the night hike leader, Gale Rublee, Sodalis interpretive guide with the Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department. She estimated they saw 200-300 endangered gray bats.

The grays are among six bat species found in Hannibal, Rublee said. Hannibal has the largest known hibernation population of the endangered Sodalis Myotis, also called Indiana bats, she said. They numbered more than 200,000 in the latest local census (two years ago).

Before taking the night hike, Rublee gave the crowd some details about what they would see and do during the evening before returning to the parking lot on Ely Street. The bats would be busy feeding. An individual can eat 1,000 insects in an hour.

Rublee credited the success of Hannibal Sodalis Reserve saving endangered bats to Kirsten Alvey Mudd, who discovered Hannibal's bat population. “She is the founder of the Missouri Bat Census,” Rublee said. “Part of the success story is that she discovered this about five years ago, and for all this to come together in about five years is really special.”

The Sodalis trail is a popular among local walkers, Rublee said, noting that on Friday night, “more than half of them were familiar with the trail but had not been on a night hike.”

The trail has 34 gated entrances to the bat caves. On a night hike, people often go to the amphitheater on one trail, then return on another.

“I focused on seasonal things, like jewel weed, a plant and remedy for poison ivy,” Rublee said about the hike. “It has a seed pod a half inch or inch long, and when you touch them, they explode.”

Rublee said the group practices sensory activities to prepare for hikinging in the dark.

“We don't use flashlights to keep night vision,” Rublee said. “When it is dark, I give each one a piece of colored paper. Each person has to decide that color it is, then see if they were right.”

As the hikers wait to see if the bats will come out, they often make a fire and roast S'mores. Hannibal Police Officer Bob Stout, who patrols this area when on duty, also volunteers his time on night hikes and puts the fires together, then later cleans up the entire trail.

The Parks and Recreation Department is planning two night hikes for October. They will be on the second and fourth Fridays, the time to be announced. Rublee said she likes to schedule the night hike to begin an hour before sunset for preparatory activities.

Reservations may be made to the Parks at 573-221-0154 or by emailing mlrichards@hannibal-mo.gov.

bev.darr@courierpost.com