Why are we monitoring bats?
There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about bats which has led to them being villainised and even persecuted. Undoubtedly this has had an impact on both the funding and research allocated to bats and, on the protection, and appreciation of bats and the role they play in the ecosystem.
Bats make up about 20% of all mammal species, yet there are lots of ‘unknowns’ about bats in Western Australia. This makes it difficult for us to assess how populations are faring across the state and to identify the extent of impacts on these populations resulting from pressures such as habitat loss, fragmentation, and other disturbances.
By setting up a broad-scale, long-term bat monitoring program we will be able to answer some of these unknown questions. We will be able to:
- Determine current distribution ranges and populations for our bats and look at changes and trends in these populations over time.
- Monitor the impact of habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change on our bat populations over time.
- Provide better protection and management for bats and their habitat, including enhancing IUCN red list assessments of bat species.
Why should we care?
Bats are an important part of the ecosystem – they have a role in pollination, seed dispersal and pest control.
- Did you know one little microbat can eat over 1000 insects (including mozzies and other pest species) in just one night? Bats are an important part of our ecosystem and play a role as natural pest controllers! They help keep our insect populations in check.
- Bats are not only great indicators of ecosystem health, but they also aid soil quality by providing natural fertilisers (yes, I’m referring to bat guano or bat poo, and yes, it makes excellent fertiliser - some countries have even farmed and sold it!)
- Just like us, bats are incredibly social animals with complex social structures and family groups. They are also incredibly long-lived for a mammal of their size with the oldest known bat living to at least 41 years!
Learn more about bats and some of the issues they're faced with by watching this short documentary, 'The Truth About Bats'.
How can I get involved?
Western Australia is a HUGE place! To be able to achieve a broad-scale program we need help from everyone across the state. For the first year of the program we’ll be focusing on establishing the program in Perth and the southwest, and subsequent years we plan to expand the range.
Below we’ve included a bit more information about some of the different opportunities you can get involved in.
We’re also working on an online training platform with lots of resources, a few online talks later this year that will dive into the different options a little further, and some in-person training events. Keep an eye on our social media channels or sign up to our Citizen Science newsletter to keep informed.
Please get in touch at [email protected] if your group is interested in hosting a bat walk training session to promote establishing a transect in your patch.
Roost counts involve counting bats as they emerge from a bat roost. The type of roost will dictate how the roost is monitored and whether a roost count is possible.
At this stage we’re asking anyone that is aware of a bat roost, to let us know about it. We can then scope out the roost and determine whether it’s suitable for a roost count and how else we might be able to monitor it.
What is a bat roost? Put simply, a bat roost is literally somewhere that bats hang out!
Bats use a range of different structures to roost in, these can include trees (forest dwelling bats particularly love old mature trees, where they can roost in hollows, under lifted bark and in cracks), crevices in walls or under tiles, in bridges, in caves or old mines and of course bat boxes.
Bats will often roost switch (switch roosts every few days) and/or move roost throughout the year depending on the season. So even if bats aren’t present in a roost now, if they were there previously, then it’s likely a bat roost and we’d still love to hear about it!
Exact roost locations will not be publicised to ensure their protection and the privacy of any landowners that are fortunate enough to host a bat roost.
If you know of a bat roost please let us know here!
Bat walks are set transects that will be walked by Bat Champions in the evening twice over summer for a minimum of 5 years.
Each Bat Champion that chooses to help with the bat walks will walk a set route with a hand-held bat detector. These detectors are designed to record the echolocation calls of bats, which can be used to identify species presence. These bat detectors can be collected from one of our ‘kit hubs’, borrowed from one of our member groups, or if you’re fortunate enough to own a detector or borrow one from your work, then you’d be welcome to use that too.
Bat Champions will walk the transect stopping at designated stopping points along the way and take note throughout the walk of any bat activity (for example, ‘2 bats observed over the lake for 3 minutes’). This helps to give us an idea of bat activity and to identify important foraging grounds and commuting routes.
The set transects will be between 3-5km, start 30 minutes after sunset and take about 90 minutes to complete. You’ll also have the option to extend this for another 90 minutes, either walking the transect twice or walking your own extended route.
The bat walk can be walked by 2-4 Bat Champions. You’ll have the flexibility to arrange the exact evening you carry out the walk, we just ask it’s on a night with good conditions (no rain, not too windy and not too cold) and that the first walk takes place between Nov and Dec, and the second walk between Jan and Feb. We also recommend carrying out a recce of the route prior to the walk.
After the bat walk the bat call recordings will be shared with a team of trained citizen scientists who will analysis the bat calls collected. The Bat Champions (and associated member group) will receive a list of bat species, and the data will feed into the wider study.
There are two ways to get involved:
- To help with an established bat transect route.
- To establish your own bat, transect to walk (this can be done as part of a group).
If you’re interested in helping with a bat walk, please register your interest by sending an email to [email protected]. Include in the subject line ‘Bat Walk Champion’ and in the email your location and whether you’re apart of or representing a specific group.
Bat acoustic analysis
Bats produce ultra sonic sounds called echolocation. This is used a bit like a bat torch and helps a bat see in the dark. We can use a bat detector to record the ultra-sonic call and determine the presence of bats – this works by slowing the call down and converting it to a sound at a frequency we can hear.
Sonagrams are produced from these call records and from this we can determine the species or genus of the bats present. The process of analysing these calls is commonly known as ‘bat acoustic analysis’ or ‘sound analysis’ and it a type of bioacoustic monitoring.
Once a bat walk has taken place and as part of scoping out bat roosts, we will be needing to carry out the sound analysis of the calls.
This is quite technical and is something that will require training and support – but some of the best bat acoustic analysts I know are citizen scientists. To support this, we plan to provide good guidance, resources (which includes developing regional echolocation guide and reference library), and a robust verification process.
The role will be largely home-based, with optional social gatherings and a network where you can ask questions.
We’re currently taking expression of interest for this role - for beginners, we’ll be offering training next Autumn, and for those that have some experience already, you’ll be welcomed to join our existing group.
Please send an email to [email protected] with ‘Bat Acoustics’ in the subject line and include a sentence about your bat acoustic experience.
We currently have a limited number of bat detector kits that we plan to use to set up a few ‘Kit Hubs’ in Perth and the southwest region.
A Kit Hub will be a central place where Bat Champions can book to collect/ drop off a bat detector kit. The Perth Kit Hub will be based at our office in West Perth. We also plan to set up a Kit Hub in Margaret River, Albany and possibly Narrogin (tbc). More info on this soon!
We’re also encouraging groups to apply for grants to purchase their own bat detector kit. With support from CCWA, purchasing a detector kit will help enable groups to set up and carry out bat walks and monitoring on their own site. We’ll be able to provide training and support in setting up the bat walks and with the analysis of the bat calls collected from your bat walks – bat acoustic analysis is a manual process and takes time. This step will be done by volunteers, followed by a verification process, so please appreciate it might be a couple of months before you receive a bat species list from your bat walks. This analysis will also form part of the wider WA Bat Monitoring Program.
The detector kit includes:
- An Echo Meter Touch 2 detector
- A compatible android tablet or device
- Protective case for your android device
- Adaptor (required for some android devices)
We’re happy to try and support groups in the grant process, so please feel free to drop us an email if you have any questions that would help support your grant application.
Other ways to get involved
There will also be the opportunity to take part in bat detector building workshops, educational stalls, trapping and echolocation call collection.
General Bat FAQ
What to do if you find an injured bat?
Please contact your local wildlife rescue and they’ll be able to put you in touch with a trained, vaccinated bat carer. Please do not attempt to pick up the bat – the bat carer will be able to ask you some questions and best advise you on whether the bat needs help and what to do next.
FYI - bats go into 'topor' (a deep sleep) during the day, which can sometimes be mistaken as the bat being injured. It's important to not disturb bats in torpor. The bat carer will be able to advise you on whether the bat is in topor or injured.
Help, a bat is flying around my house!
In most cases the bat is just as (if not more scared than you) and will make it’s own way out, but to help the bat do this you can close the internal doors to keep the bat contained to one room, dim the lights and then open all the external doors and windows. Please also contain any pets you have.
I have a bat roost in my house, should I be concerned?
No, bats that roost in houses are insectivorous (eat insects), and are not dangerous to humans or pets. In fact, they help control populations of insects. Their droppings are not known to be a source of disease, and will quickly dry with little or no odour. A small percentage of bats carry Australian Bat Lyssavirus, a rabies-related disease. It can only be transmitted via saliva from an infected bat. If you do not handle bats, you should not be at risk.
Microbats are clean and sociable animals that will not nibble or gnaw wood, wires or insulation. All they are after is a place to rest. Left to their own devices, microbats can be fine house guests.
We'd love to hear more about the bat roost in your house - please drop us an email at [email protected]
We don't know a lot about the roosting preferences of our WA bat species, but we do know that they're losing roosting habitat. Learning about bat roosting preferences will help us create more suitable artificial roosts for the different bat species - an important conservation effort for protecting our bat species.
Why do I have bats roosting in my house?
In Australia most microbat species roost in trees, while others roost in caves. Suitable tree roosts are often found only in large old trees, as the cracks and hollows that microbats use take a long time to form. These tree roosts are often destroyed by people ‘over-tidying’ dead wood, removing old trees from their properties, and from land clearing for mining and development. In the face of this bat housing shortage, some microbat species will seek refuge in buildings instead.
Can I catch rabies from being in the same room as a bat?
Simply put, no, but let’s dive into this question a little further.
Although uncommon, Australian bats can carry Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV), which is linked to rabies. This is why only people with rabies vaccinations, the appropriate PPE and training should handle bats.
You’ll only catch Lyssavirus if you handle an infected bat and it bites or scratches you, or and infected bat’s saliva gets in through your mouth, nose, or eyes! You won’t catch it from being in the same room as the bat – it’s not transmitted through the air. Doing a roost count or bat walk will not put you at risk of contracting Lyssavirus or put you at a greater risk of contracting any other virus.
Any bat handling undertaken during the Bat Monitoring Program will be carried out by in line with the ABS Bat Handling Guideline by trained, vaccinated individuals.
More info here can be found here Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) | Agriculture and Food
Resources on bat boxes, bat handling guidelines and various other bat related things across the country. They also have a handy Bat Map, so you can learn what species you might have flying around your area. A fantastic group to join!
A great resource on building and installing (microbat) bat boxes. Not an Australian specific guide, but still a really useful resource packed full of great information.
Bats roosting in your house? You might find these resources useful.