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Counting Bats With Carter

If there are less bats, there can be more insects that spread disease.

You may have seen a video about bats on YouTube, or read an article that they help eat pesky bugs like mosquitos, but you probably haven’t made an effort to search for bats and count them. Millersville University (MU) senior Carter Farmer is spending her summer and fall trying to find bats. She’s working as part of an independent study course with Dr. Aaron Haines of the biology department, and several outside organizations.

One project is with the Lancaster County Conservancy to do a bio-inventory. She’s identifying bat species based on the noises they make.

“Carter uses a microphone to record the clicks of the bats and matches it to known sonograms in a bat database to identify specific bat species,” explained Haines. “She’s trying to determine if the Indiana bat or the northern long-eared bat are in Lancaster County.”

Northern Long-Eared Bat – Photo by New York Department of Environmental Conservation; Al Hicks

Indiana bats, an endangered species listed since 1966, are found over most of the Eastern half of the United States.  Northern long-eared bats, recently listed as threatened in 2015, are found in 37 states from the Atlantic coast westward to eastern Montana and Wyoming.

Ten years ago, the little brown bat, tricolored bat (formerly known as the eastern pipistrelle), and northern long-eared bat populations were common and widespread in Pennsylvania, and the federally endangered Indiana bat populations were increasing in the state. In the last decade, populations of these bat species have declined dramatically due to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, causing regional extinctions of local populations. This project will help identify remaining populations and inform efforts to conserve healthy habitats for bats to roost, hibernate, forage for insects and access healthy freshwater.

“Groups are concerned about the bats in Pennsylvania because our bats were decimated by the White-nose syndrome,” said Haines.  “If there are less bats, there can be more insects that spread disease. Counting bats yields crucial data for both the number of bats remaining and the type of bat.”

Earlier this summer Haines received a Community Engagement Grant for his “Survey of Rare Bat Species” project. The grant, which is worth almost $2,000, is from the Center for Public Scholarship and Social Change at Millersville University.

He also received a $9,000 grant through the Kittatinny Coalition with Audubon Pennsylvania to begin a relatively new project.  With this funding, Haines will lead a collaborative effort with Bat Conservation & Management, Inc. to use remote devices to monitor bat species of conservation concern, including big brown, tricolored, northern long-eared, eastern small-footed (PA threatened), Indiana (U.S. and PA endangered), little brown and silver-haired bats at several state parks and nature centers. A permanent publicly accessible remote acoustic bat kiosk will be established at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary to record bat calls.

“Visitors will be able to go through the kiosk to not only read about the history and activity of the bats, but also hear bat calls and see what species are active outside,” said Haines. “We plan on gathering data from the kiosk to monitor bat species activity throughout the year.”

Farmer presented at the 2017 Made in Millersville on bats and Haines says they will be presenting their research at future conferences and have hopes to publish their results.

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