Tahlequah Daily Press

August 5, 2013

Nocturnal studies

Bat enthusiasts check the area for species diversity during the 12th annual Bat Blitz.

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — srowley@tahlequahdailypress.com

When it comes to the nocturnal creatures known as bats, some people may regard them as scary or creepy and want them to stay away.

But other folks love bats, and about 100 bat enthusiasts from around the country gathered in Tahlequah from July 28 – Aug. 1 to take part in the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network’s 12th annual Bat Blitz.

“We hope the event itself brings awareness of bats,” said Richard Stark, fish and wildlife biologist for the Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge. “They are very beneficial. They eat bugs, mosquitos, agricultural pests – bats in northeast Oklahoma are insectivores. It is estimated that bats consume billions of insects each year. They have always played an important role.”

Ten teams set up netting sites in Cherokee, Adair and Delaware counties. Species most commonly caught were eastern red bats, tricolored bats or eastern pipistrelles, and evening bats.

“We also caught gray bats and ozark big-eared bats, which are rare,” Stark said.

Those participating included academics, representatives of agencies and consulting firms and graduate and undergraduate college students.

“We tried to identify places where we believed bat activity would be high,” said Shea Hammond, deputy refuge manager for the Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge. “The first night, a couple of teams caught no bats and a couple of others caught between 50 and 100. The second night, we adjusted the sites and each team caught between five and 20 specimens. That’s what we were shooting for – a more even count between the sites.”

Stark stressed that the primary purpose of the collections was to determine the bat populations in the area.

“We are just trying to find out which species are out there,” he said. “We set up collection sites at streams, pounds, ridge tops, bluff lines, open and forested areas. We are not trying to catch a certain bat. It is a survey.”

Bats are collected with nets attached to vertical poles. Collection requires patience, with teams sitting with the lights out and checking the nets at regular intervals.

“The nets come in all shapes and sizes,” Stark said. “We try to get the right mesh and get it to a certain tightness where they don’t bounce off or get tangled. Professionals handle the bats while wearing gloves. We take measurements and weights. Some bats are banded.”

Swabs are taken of some bats to check for white nose syndrome, which was first documented in 2006 near Albany, N.Y., and in July was reported in Arkansas.

White nose syndrome is caused by a fungus which grows around the muzzles of bats while they hibernate.

“It thrives in wet and cold environments, so it affects cave resting bats,” Stark said. “Infected bats wake up more often, resulting in greater calorie consumption and depleting their fat reserves for hibernation. Mortality is high.”

Though the ailment is passed mainly among bats, the researchers took no chances when handling specimens, wearing gloves and decontaminating equipment including the nets.

“We need to be very careful about what we do in the field,” Stark said. “There is some evidence that bat researchers can carry the fungus. It can make using electronic equipment difficult because we need to disinfect everything.”

Stark said there had been no surveys of bat populations in the Oklahoma Ozarks since the 1990s.

“It was about time to take another look and see what kinds of bats are out there,” he said.

What’s next

The final in a three-part series will give tips on what to do about unsightly yards and high grass.