This past summer was a busy one for Dr. Mark Browning and his team of bat researchers, working hard to track Little Brown Bats and follow the spread of White-Nose Syndrome in Ontario. They’ve travelled the province high and low, searching by car and by plane and by foot (oh my!) to learn more about where bats call home, and they’re excited to share their findings with us!
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…little brown bat?
Counting bats might seem as easy as 1-2-3, but unless you’ve got super powers (or super night vision goggles), it’s no easy task! Bats are nocturnal, which means they’re most active in the dark of night, and this makes spotting them a challenge. Instead of trying to catch a glimpse of these fascinating fliers, Dr. Browning’s team turns their ears to the sky instead.
To the batmobile we go!
The adventure starts just after sunset, when the team hops in their special bat-tracking car (almost as cool as the real batmobile) and heads out to record the echolocation calls of the bats that fly over their driving paths. These calls are too high-pitched for humans to hear, but they’re no problem for the team’s handy dandy ultrasonic recorders! Since each of Ontario’s 8 bat species has a different call, the team can use their recordings to figure out how many of each species were found in each area they visited. Finding lots of bats in the same place gives us clues about what makes a good habitat, and it also helps us track the spread of White-Nose Syndrome in Ontario.
Home sweet home
Thanks to the team’s hard work, we’ve learned a lot about the Little Brown Bat’s habitat. When it comes to searching for food, these bats choose habitats that have ponds, marshes, and other calm bodies of water – the perfect spots for catching their insect prey! We need to make sure that these important habitats are protected so that the bats that rely on them continue to have a safe place to live.
But where are all the bats?
Unfortunately, even having good habitat doesn’t guarantee that our bats will always be safe. White-Nose Syndrome was first spotted in Canada in 2010 and has hit bats hard. If a bat colony becomes infected, it’s likely that 90% of them won’t survive. Dr. Browning’s team counted more Little Brown Bats in northern Ontario, where the fungus that causes White-Nose Syndrome was only found recently and hasn’t had as much time to spread, than they did in the south, where these bats were counted much less.
The disappearing bat populations in southern Ontario are a big problem, but there is still hope. After surveying spots they thought might be used by female bats for roosting, Dr. Browning’s team discovered that even though they’re rare, Little Brown Bat females were still coming together in colonies to give birth and raise their young. These colonies are really important, and next year the team will continue their field work to learn more about what makes a good roosting area and what we can do to help stop the spread of White-Nose Syndrome in these critical habitats.
What’s next for the Little Brown Bat?
Hoping to answer their questions about what makes a good bat home, the team will head out again in March and April to look for more hibernacula (places like mines and caves where bats can take shelter in the winter), and in the summer they’ll take another trip through northern Ontario to learn even more about Little Brown Bat habitat. They’ll also do more research into why female bats choose certain spots for roosting, so stay tuned for lots more exciting news!
- You can help support scientists like Dr. Mark Browning and his team by starting a Bring Back the Wild campaign to help protect the Little Brown Bat.
- Dr. Browning’s batmen (and women) are on the case!