What Are Bats?
Bats are a special order of animals called Chiroptera and are the only mammals capable of true flight and the second most abundant mammal on Earth just behind rodents. Most bats are nocturnal species and so operate primarily after dusk after awaking from their roost sites. During this time, carnivorous bats and many species of nectar-feeders fly out into the night to forage for food and drink. These nocturnal mammals provide a large service to their respective ecosystems; however many are rarely seen and all are mostly misunderstood. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is working to contribute to a nationwide field effort for monitoring and preserving bat species that recently began to decline.
Glen Canyon Bat Inventory
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is currently underway on a field effort to learn more about its resident and migratory bat population. To do that, resource teams are figuring out current bat activity through soundscape monitoring and strategic bat netting. From collected species and geographic data, the National Park Service may draw inferences to significant bat population trends in the Glen Canyon area.
Methods of Bat Detection
Bats are shadowy fliers, and can be reliably identified at the species level when held in hand. To do this, black mesh capture nets are suspended between two poles (similar to a volleyball net) and deployed in a bat flyway after sunset to capture bats that are in free flight. Bats become entangled in the net and are retrieved by biologists for processing. All bats captured have their information collected such as weight, reproductive status, age, etc. and then released unharmed. In 2015, Park Service staff at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area confirmed 9 species of bats through mist netting efforts.
Another way Glen Canyon has been gaining insight into bat species is by recording the natural acoustics bats emit through their travel –a process they use called echolocation. Bats primarily travel by using sound as a guiding direction. By sending out high frequency sound waves, well above the human range of hearing, bats can use the corresponding echoes and the time it takes to travel between their ears to identify an objects location and shape in a 3D space. Scientists at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area have been using this sound to identify the bat species they are and aren't able to capture in mist nets. National Park Service scientists have found that bats are in greater concentrations near intermittent ponds farthest away from Lake Powell. In 2015, Park Service staff at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area confirmed 4 species of bats through acoustic monitoring efforts.
Bats in Glen Canyon
Out of the 28 species of bats in Arizona and 18 species in Utah, 16 species are known to occur within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Importance of Bats
Having these bats around is beneficial to campers and backpackers by the bats' abilities to help control insect populations. More importantly some bat species can eat their entire body weight in insects each night and serve as a natural insect remover from important agricultural crops and native vegetation. Herbivorous insects in areas where vegetation may be sparse can be especially harmful to crop resources, so having a local bat population can drastically help in agricultural damage control and limit other methods of insect control such as pesticides.
Bats have a high survivorship curve, living up to 20 years; however bats having low reproductive rates (1 pup/female/year) are susceptible to environmental and human disturbances. Colony roosts of over 1,000 bats can be greatly affected by a single disturbance event. It is important for visitors to respect the natural sounds of the environment and not create undue disturbance to any sleeping nocturnal animals during their visit.
NPS Bat Articles
Check out these articles to learn more about White Nose Syndrome, its effects on eastern bat species, and the recent spread across the U.S.