Michael Callahan, Director of Aquatics
Bats in Texas
Where did you go?
In Summer 2010, David Place, Kristie Reimer (Husbandry Supervisors), and Misha Body (Living Species Coordinator) drove to West Texas after a successful scouting trip that Misha and I made 3 weeks prior. Our Veterinarian, Dr. Pam Govett, flew to Texas to meet the crew later on so that she could give the bats a medical inspection and vaccinate them against rabies.
The goal was to acquire pallid bats (Antrozous pallidus) for an exhibit in the Desert gallery within Ecosystems. We also wanted to conduct a survey to add to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's data about the abundance and diversity of bat species in the areas we were scouting. The collected data helps plan conservation initiatives and manage the wild populations.
What is the environment like?
The weather is similar to Southern California's, but the environment is far more open and has towering rock formations. When our team arrived at their destination in Texas, there was a big thunder and lightning storm that lit up the entire sky. It poured for about 15 minutes, and they wondered if they'd see a flash flood like the one here at the Science Center!
How did you identify the bats that you were searching for?
Since the bats we were looking for roost in crevices during the day, they're tucked away and not in plain sight. In the daylight, we gather clues from guano (bat feces) and insect parts that the bats discard because they're too tough to eat. These give us a good idea of what size the bats are that roost in each location we scouted. At night, when the bats fly out to search for food, we're able to get up close, and we can easily identify pallid bats based on their large ears, light-colored fur, and relatively large body size.
Describe the bat detector
Bats use a type of sonar called "echolocation" to find food and navigate around various obstacles in their environment. Most bats make echolocation calls at various frequencies that are too high for humans to hear. Thus, we used a "bat detector" that picks up the echolocation calls and lowers the frequency so that humans can hear. When a bat flies over the bat detector, we are able to hear different clicks or chirps, and we can set the detector to specific frequencies to pick up different species of bats.
Our trip was successful in many ways. Not only did we manage to find healthy colonies of pallid bats, but we were also able to forge relationships with the people who help protect and manage the wildlife in Texas.
We saw a lot of different wildlife! There were small songbirds, roadrunners, large turkey vultures, and we were lucky enough to see a ferruginous hawk, the largest species of hawk in the United States!
We're really excited to be able to show these incredible animals to our guests. Pallid bats and their batty cousins are unique animals that are highly beneficial to their ecosystems, particularly with regard to eating thousands of bugs every night and helping pollinate desert plants.
With the threat of White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that has devastated bat populations in the Northeast and has now spread as far west as Oklahoma, increasing awareness about these fascinating creatures is more important than ever. By increasing awareness, we hope that our guests will gain an understanding and appreciation for bats as the first step toward helping protect and manage wild populations.