Dusk may seem like an odd time to take a hike in the woods but on a warm evening in July, eager attendees gathered at Silver Creek Conservation Area for a special opportunity – to learn about and, hopefully, see bats up close.
The unique event was hosted by bat experts, Derek Morningstar and Fiona Reid, and assisted by university student volunteers from bat labs at McMaster University, York University and the University of Toronto. They were interested in seeing what bats they could capture at Silver Creek and the public was invited to watch the research in action.
The researchers set up nets in several locations throughout the forest. Once it was dark, they guided attendees on a walk along the trail to see the tools and techniques used to research these amazing night-flying creatures.
Two types of nets were used: mist nets and a harp trap. Mists nets, made of nylon or polyester mesh, are the primary tool used to capture bats. The nets are strung between two poles and look like gigantic volleyball nets but are virtually invisible to bats in the dark. Harp traps use layers of loops of string strung around a pole to obstruct the bats and drop them harmlessly into a collection chamber. Both methods present low risk to the bats.
After learning about the nets, participants had the opportunity to ask the students about their research, try out a heat vision scope and listen to bat echolocations recordings. The anticipation was high; most people don’t often have the opportunity to see bats up close but there was no guarantee any bats would be captured.
Luckily three big brown bats and one little brown myotis bat were caught in the mist nets.
The researchers showed participants how they collect data about the bats. They weighed, measured, determined the sex and did a health check. Before being released, the bats were also banded on the arm with a unique identification number. Banding helps researchers learn about bat movements. Bats can live long lives and travel lengthy distances, so banding helps researched understand their movements if they are recaptured elsewhere in the province or near important hibernation sites. Please note the researchers are trained to handle bats with care and caution and the public should never handle a bat with bare hands.
Some interesting bat facts:
- There are eight bat species in Ontario: the hoary bat, the eastern red bat, the silver-haired bat, the big brown bat, the tricolored bat, the little brown myotis bat, the northern myotis and the eastern small-footed myotis.
- Ontario bats are all insectivores, meaning they eat insects.
- Bats are the only flying mammal in the world.
- Bats can live up to 40 years old.
- Five of the eight species in Ontario hibernate during the winter, while the other three migrate.
- All Ontario bats use echolocation, meaning they send out pulses of ultrasonic sound and can detect the echoes bouncing back from objects, including their prey.
- Half of Ontario’s bat species are endangered. Habitat loss and pesticide use are contributing to their decline but the most serious threat is white nose syndrome (WNS).
- WNS is caused by a fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that infects skin on the muzzle, ears and wings of bats. This fungus affects the five non-migratory bat species in Ontario and has decimated populations.
By Nicole Di Cintio, Specialist, Marketing and Communications