Listening to bats

New York bats are trying their best to bounce back from “white-nose syndrome,” a fungal disease first identified in 2006 in their overwintering caves near Syracuse. The mysterious disease has since spread across the eastern half of the United States & Canada killing more than 6 million bats. The little brown bat, once the most populous bat in New York State was decimated.

Photo courtesy of NYSDEC

Photo courtesy of NYSDEC

Zoo volunteers have for the past five years been assisting NYSDEC in monitoring bat populations after white-nose syndrome first appeared. We use a car-top mounted microphone and a lap top to record bat acoustics along 12, 20 mile routes in Western New York during June and July.

Volunteer Kenna in the "batmobile." Photo by Christine Christie

Volunteer Kenna in the “batmobile.” Photo by Christine Christie

Each bat species has a specific echolocation “voice print,” allowing a safe and non-invasive way to characterize bat species diversity.  The bat populations being monitored travel every spring from the cave systems affected by the white-nose syndrome fungus, spending summers in Greater Rochester, Buffalo and the Southern Tier where our “batmobile” recordings take place.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWkUiNnJKdM]

Each recording session begins exactly at sunset. We then drive 20 miles-per-hour, recording bats as they echolocate their mosquito and moth prey above designated routes, from Canandaigua and Letchworth to Holland, New York.

The white-nose fungus originated in Europe where bats have, over time, developed an immunity. Let’s hope our New York State bats eventually share the same immunity attributes of their European counterparts!

As researchers study the disease process in the laboratory and caves, our Seneca Park Zoo batmobilers are providing NYSDEC with critical data on bat population trends in their summer homes across Western New York.  We thank Seneca Park Zoo “batmobile” volunteers for advancing science to save bats.

How can you help? Add a bat house to your yard providing a roost. Garden without pesticides and plant moth attracting wildflower gardens.

 

 

–Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health and Conservation