Bat Blitzing

Well, its another 100+ degree day here in St. George, but I think the vast majority of us CLMers know what a hot day in the desert is all about.

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in the Inter-agency Bat Blitz. Various biologists from multiple organizations like the US Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department and Northern Arizona University gathered in Jacob Lake, Arizona for a wild week of bat catching. The goals for the bat blitz were to collect DNA material from Euderma maculatum (Spotted Bats) and attach radio transmitters to four female breeding Idionycteris  phyllotis (Allen’s Lappet-Browed Bat). Every day the group would have a 4 p.m. rendezvous, during which we would divide up into teams and set out to prepare our mist-netting sites. Most of the sites actually ended up being man-made watering holes maintained for livestock. Once the sun set, we would open up the nets and wait. In one night we could catch anywhere between 50 and 200 bats! The bats were retrieved from the net, and I got the opportunity to key out a lot of the species (thankfully I was WAY better at keying out bat species than I was at keying out plants). We caught a lot of different varieties from the family Myotis. My favorite bats were those commonly known as Hoary Bats, they are really furry and make this incredibly loud screeching noise when they’re upset. Super cool little guys. Also, I had never even seen bats up close before and I was really amazed to discover how tiny they are! Most of the species were around the length of my finger.
The most exciting moments of mist-netting happened when we heard “audibles”. The two particular species we were trying to collect samples from and attach radio transmitters to both happen to echolocate at frequencies audible to human ears. Both of these species are also particularly sensitive to light and sound. Thus, at the first sound of a chirp, someone would shout “audible”, and everyone’s headlamps would click off. We would all sit perfectly still and wait. You could hear the bats hunting, and feel the air from their wing beats when they whooshed past your head. Most of the time the bats were too smart for us, bats can remember events over long periods of time, and a lot of them were well aware of our presence and wise to our tricks. The last night I was there my group did manage to catch a spotted bat. It was great to finally get a look at the creature I had spent so much time waiting quietly for.
Doing bat work obviously involved being up at night. Our typical work day would start around 4 p.m. and finish around 2 a.m. Being an early morning person, this was a somewhat unpleasent transition. But it was tottally worth it because I got the opportunity to do something new and exciting… and I discovered (not surprisingly) that bats are fascinating creatures, I would be thrilled to get to work with them in the future.

For those of you who haven’t been there, Jacob Lake, AZ is a beautiful place. I was quite disappointed to discover that the “lake” is really more of a sad little pond, but there is an amazing expanse of Ponderosa Pine forest there, and most of the area is around 8,000 feet in elevation, making it a cool refuge from the roasting hot desert sun. Most if not all of the area there is forest service land, so the public can camp anywhere they would like. I would definitely recommend it as an ideal weekend getaway.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.