Studying Bats

Bats help maintain healthy ecosystems and are important pieces of the puzzle for our natural spaces, including national parks. With threats like habitat loss, wind energy turbines, and white-nose syndrome, researchers and wildlife managers spend time and resources learning more about bats on park lands. This information is necessary to determine the best ways to protect and manage bats in national parks. Questions that researchers or managers ask range from basics like where different species live and what habitats they use for shelter and food, to population sizes and understanding how we can help reduce the harmful effects of diseases and other threats to bats.

Watch videos about bats and science at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
What species of bats and how many of each live here? How has this changed over time?
This information is the first step in science-based management of bats in parks. Species that are listed as threatened or endangered require special attention. Also, understanding how these populations have changed over time helps managers identify trends related to migration, changes in habitat or climate, and impacts of disease or other threats to bats.

Join park staff on cave adventures to monitor the unique animals, like bats, that live in caves.

Learn more about different bat species that live in our national parks and where to find them!

Where do bats roost, forage, hibernate, and raise young in the park?
Wildlife managers in parks need to know where bats live and what types of habitat they need for shelter and food in order to protect them. This information is used to make a variety of management decisions that may affect bat habitat. It is also helpful to know where bats can be found during different times of the year in case researchers, park managers, or others need to count them or catch them for surveys, scientific studies, or surveillance for diseases, like white-nose syndrome.

Are the bat populations healthy?
Monitoring the health of bats lets researchers know if the populations have white-nose syndrome or other diseases. It also lets managers know if bats suffer from other stressors, like contaminant poisoning from herbicides or pesticides for example.
Reproductive rates are indicative of a healthy population. We also learn whether the colonies are successfully reproducing. Emergence counts occur at maternity roosts before and after the pups have fledged. The pre-fledging counts at a known maternity colony over a couple of years also allows us to determine if the population survived the winter.

Methods for Catching and Studying Bats

Bats are small animals that can be hard to find! They are often well-hidden in trees or deep inside caves and only come out at night to hunt for insects. This makes bats difficult to study, so researchers have developed special techniques for studying and counting bats. In response to the multitude of threats facing bat populations in North America, the National Park Service has been collaborating with other management agencies and bat conservation organizations to develop coordinated bat population monitoring efforts, such as the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat).

Watch researchers at the University of Florida capture Florida bonneted bats.
bat in mist net
Long-legged bat in mist net

P. Cryan

Mist nets - This long-legged bat is temporarily tangled in a mist net. This loose mesh is practically invisible when strung up between two poles at dusk, and bats get caught in it when they fly by. Park staff or researchers can then carefully free the bat and collect information, such as the type of species or weight, collect samples for genetic studies or disease surveillance, or mark the bat with a band or other device so it can be tracked. The bat is then released to continue its nightly activities. Bats are quick learners, so park staff and researchers have to be creative about where to set up the nets.

Acoustic surveys - Scientists can record the echolocations or calls that bats make when they are flying through the air using specialized microphones and recording devices. Just like birds, different species of bats tend to make different types of sounds, which allows the researcher to identify the species of bat that flew by. The recording device may be left in the field to record bat calls over a number of nights or can be used to survey an area in one night by walking or driving along a specific route. Additionally, many parks have permanent monitoring stations to track bat activity year-round.

Field surveys - In a field survey, scientists visit locations where bats are likely to live - caves, trees, crevices, abandoned mines, etc. They are often looking for numbers and species of bats that are at these locations at different times of the year. Some special tools, like infrared cameras or telephoto lenses, can be helpful for finding and counting bats.

man holds radiotransmitter outdoors
USGS scientist radiotracking bats at Mesa Verde National Park in 2007

P. Cryan

Radio transmitters - In some cases, researchers need to be able to track a bat to learn about the secret places that bats go to rest, hibernate or raise young. The information helps managers know where bats are during different times of the year and what locations they need to protect for the bats. To do this, researchers attach temporary radio transmitters onto the back of a bat (like a tiny backpack) after it is captured using a net or other method. The bat is then released. Throughout the next few weeks, the researchers can find the bat and track its movements using an antenna to detect the signal that is constantly sent out from the tiny radiotransmitter on the bat. After a few weeks, the transmitter falls off and the bat can return to its secretive ways.

Last updated: September 29, 2022


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