Last evening we spent some time out at Parfrey’s Glen with folks from the Wisconsin Bat Program. When we caught the one and only bat during our time there, we were told to appreciate the moment, because by next year it may be rare to see a Northern long-eared bat anywhere. Even this one small specimen showed scarring from the effects of white-nose syndrome. It’s not looking good.
Bats play an important role in many environments around the world. Some plants depend partly or wholly on bats to pollinate their flowers or spread their seeds, over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination. Other bats also help control pests by eating insects. The little brown bat’s at Devil’s Lake State Park can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes in a single hour!!
Last night the team set up two stations. We hung out at one station with the DNR’s Jennifer Rydell & bat program volunteer, Judith Siers-Poisson, who some of you may know from Wisconsin Public Radio. The goal of the research is of course to see how far white-nose has spread and examine the health of our bat population. We know that white-nose is spreading north from where it first entered the state in Grant County in the southwest part of the Wisconsin. We also know the populations are falling. The question is how fast is it spreading and how fast are we losing our local populations.
We got hands-on as we were drafted to help set up the mist net to capture the bats. From there we just had to wait for the sun to set. In the last of the evening light we saw our first bat fly to and around the net a couple of times before disappearing into the darkness. The second, and last bat we saw flew right into the net.
The small long-eared bat was gently removed from the net and carried over to the working table where she was identified, sexed, weighed, measured and tagged. A bit of hair was taken off of her back as well for further genetic studies. It was during this examination that some scarring from white-nose was discovered. It was hoped that the small bat would be able to carry a transmitter, but her small size made that impossible. To make sure the transmitter isn’t a burden to the bat, it must weight less than 5% of the specimen’s total body total weight. After a couple of pictures, she was sent back off into the night sky.
We hung around for another hour or so, but no more bats showed up. It could have been the cold temperatures or lower populations, but it certainly felt ominous not to have seen more bats at Parfrey’s Glen.
Oh, and by the way, we asked the big question.. “Have you ever had a bat get caught in your hair?” I mean, a bat researcher with long hair hanging in close quarters with bats for years, right!??!?! The answer. “No.” (But we knew that!)
Devil’s Lake State Park has supported a thriving Little Brown Bat population for years and years. In fact, every Friday night the park’s Nature Center holds a Bat Watch event down at the bat condo near the north shore boat landing. We’re a little concerned about what we’ll see this year. If you’re curious you can join the park naturalist Friday, May 27th for the first bat watch of the year. Sadly, without some new discoveries and fast interventions bat watches may become a thing of the past.
For now, bat watches will happen every Friday at sundown on Devil’s Lake State Park’s north shore from Memorial weekend through the summer season.
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** Thank you to the Wisconsin Bat Program for letting us tag along!