Bats of Missouri
>> Hey there and welcome back to Nature Boost, I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Every year I start celebrating Halloween basically after Fourth of July and of course, what is the most popular, one of the most iconic animals associated with Halloween? Of course, it's the bat!
So here with me to tell me more about this creature of the night is MDC bat ecologist Jordan Meyer. Jordan, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.
>> Of course. Thank you so much for having me.
>> I bet I know what your favorite superhero is . . . Spiderman, right?!
>> Of course. Yeah, my daughter loves him so much! I read her Spiderman stories all the time.
>> But for real, did you want to be Batman growing up?
>> Oh I think every kid wants to be Batman if you grew up in the '90s. You get the animated series and all that.
>> Who was your favorite Batman?
>> Keaton set a pretty high standard early on, but Bale came in really well for me.
>> Yeah? I like Michael Keaton, too. Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way. I was just jonesing to ask you that question, really.
>> It's usually a running game with me. It's like how soon does Batman get brought up?
>> Yeah, oh yeah! You're kind of like Missouri's Batman, in a way, you know? I like that.
So . . . talking about bats. How many species of bats are in Missouri?
>> Sure, so consistently we have about fourteen bat species here in Missouri.
>> Fourteen? Wow.
>> Fourteen, yep. We are a lot more diverse and as you further go south in the North American continent, that is where things get more and more diverse as you approach the tropics. We are right in that middle zone of the temperate continental US so we have about fourteen here.
>> Fourteen, okay.
>> Fourteen, with a couple that blow in every once in a while when it gets particularly warm.
>> Okay. So, what would you say there is a more common species of bat? Like found statewide through Missouri?
>> Sure, we have quite a few of those, actually. But our most common species that just about everybody runs into are the big brown bat which is our second largest bat species and typically the one that is most often found in people's homes, in their attics, or that they encounter because it's very human tolerant.
>> Human tolerant?
>> Yeah, so it usually finds our structures and will roost in them or hibernate in them. It's very pro-structures. That's usually the one that people run into and it's a very common species.
>> As well as our eastern red bat which is our most common migratory species. So it will migrate to and from Missouri, and some will hibernate here as well. But they will often be found roosting on the sides of trees or on the sides of a building as they are passing through and finding a place to rest. So a lot of people run into those as well.
>> Alrighty. What's the biggest bat?
>> That would be our hoary bat.
>> Hoary bat?
>> Hoary bat, which is basically meaning white frosted and that is like hoar frost, as a word. That basically is a bat that if you get the opportunity to take a look or google search an image of it. It is a very pretty bat. They almost look like little flying lions. They have a very bright yellow face and white frosted fur. They have a very neat look and they are very large. They weigh upwards to 30 grams, which is like as much of a size of bread.
>> That's the biggest one?
>> That's the biggest one. So they aren't huge but by my standards they are massive.
>> But for folks thinking or expecting something like a flying fox or something from the Megachiroptera, or the bats that are in kind of the eastern hemisphere and southeast Asia. We don't have anything nearly that size.
>> Yeah, some of them, like you were saying, in the trophical area like that they do get really big.
>> Yes, very large.
>> I was doing some research for this episode and I looked up, "what's the biggest bat in the world" and it's kind of freaky how big they can get. Now, on the opposite side of the spectrum, I read that the smallest bat is like the size . . . people can mistake it for a moth.
>> Yes, so there's a bumble bee bat that is another tropical species that is not around here. But it's a bat that can be basically the size of your thumb in terms of its body size. Not its wings. Its body is roughly the size of your thumb. It is absolutely tiny. The smallest bat that we have here in Missouri is the eastern small footed bat which weighs about 4 grams which is the weight of like a penny. It is still very very small.
>> So overall, our bats in Missouri are pretty smaller in size. We aren't going to find any flying foxes in Missouri.
>> Alright. So, I felt really silly because again doing research for this, I kept running across bats are the only mammals that can fly. I had kind of a moment and I am hoping I am not the only one that thought about this. But wait, birds. I read that birds are more closely related to reptiles because of their feathers so birds aren't really mammals but bats are mammals.
>> Correct. The main question that I get from a lot of folks is when we talk about young baby bats being raised during the summer. Does the mom come back and regurgitate food like a bird? That is not the case. With bats being mammals, they are milk producing so they come in and they feed their young from milk that they are producing. The mothers are going out and foraging food, producing the food internally in their bodies, and then feeding their young.
>> Very well said. And I hope that some of our listeners learned I wasn't the only one who just had that moment.
>> I get that question all the time. I get "do bats lay eggs, do they regurgitate their food." I get lots of questions like that. That is completely okay. They are weird ones so I am okay with people having questions about them.
>> Thank you, I appreciate that. Okay, so this is our October episode. We are getting into Halloween. You have kids, right?
>> Are they old enough to know what your job is?
>> Oh yes, yeah.
>> Do they just think that is the coolest thing ever?
>> They think it's pretty cool. They are kind of underwhelmed by it because it is just my normal 9-5 for them. But when I tell them, "Oh, Dad's going out into caves today," or "I'm going to be out for a week catching bats in the middle of the night," they are like, "Oh, okay." You know. They want to see pictures. They think pictures are the cool thing, but it's just kind of what dad does.
>> That seems to be a common thing. I always ask that with biologists and ecologists who work at MDC and I'm always like, "Oh, your job is so cool, what do your kids think?"
They're like, "eh, they don't really care." It's just the normal thing for them. So, I just had to ask you that. But bats you know, are a very popular animal associated with Halloween and I think that is because there is a vampire bat.
>> Of course, yeah.
>> So tell us about . . . even though there are no vampire bats in Missouri. Can you tell us a little bit about the vampire bat and why it got that name? Basically they have to eat blood.
>> Yes. So the vampire bat is one of the . . . is a bat that has a true bloodmeal. So it goes out and it forages and will feed on the typical example is like livestock. Where it will go and bite into an animal and its saliva has a bit of a numbing agent as I understand. So that way the animal doesn't detect the bite, it bleeds from its wound and the bat licks it up and produces a blood meal that way. The other kind of more interesting things about the vampire bat from a bat biologist perspective are that they are able to freely crawl around the ground which is something that not a lot of bats are able to do.
>> Oh! Sorry to interrupt you.
>> No, you're fine.
>> I remember seeing a picture of a vampire bat and it did look like it kind of had some weird appendages, well, not weird but different than other. You think bats and you just think wings but do they have an extra?
>> No they are more or less able to just perch up and use their body in a way that other bats cannot with crawling kind of on their thumbs and their forearms that way and having their wings still tucked.
>> And are vampire bats the only ones that can do that?
>> As far as I am aware, yeah.
>> That kind of makes them even creepier, a little bit because we are just so used to them flying. Interesting! Okay.
For our bats in Missouri. Some live in caves, do some live in trees or in attics like we were saying? Some are more accustomed to the human structures?
>> Yeah, so, you basically divide bats out into three different categories. It is really about where they like to spend their winter habitat and where they like to spend their summer habitat. The easiest one to get across is our cave obligate bats like our endangered gray bat here in Missouri. That is a bat that has a winter hibernacula or cave that it spends the winter in to hibernate. It will have a winter hibernacula it spends all its winter in. Then when spring come around it will migrate to a summer roost, a summer cave. They go from cave to cave, and they select different caves to spend the winter in, and caves to spend the summer in based on thermal temperature within those caves.
>> So it is not the same winter cave they are going to and it is not the same summer cave they are going to? Is it different caves each season?
>> They typically have what is called site fidelity. They return to a cave frequently.
>> Oh okay.
>> They will go from their winter home to their summer home and back and forth as we understand. We are still learning a lot about bat migration because it is a very difficult thing to study. So they have a winter habitat and a summer habitat of both being in caves.
Then for gray bats, they will also split up where they have maternity caves where mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmas will all gather together and have their young in one singular cave. Whereas the males will branch off into bachelor colonies. That is one group.
Another group is cave hibernating bats. Those are bats that go into caves to hibernate for the winter, but then once summer comes around they migrate out into summer foraging habitat, particularly forests, but some will select buildings and structures. They go out and form what is called a maternity roost tree where the mothers will then roost up into a tree. They usually select dead and decaying trees that are still standing, often called snags. Trees with cavities and loose bark they like to get up under there where they can be safe and it has a consistent temperature so that way they are able to have their young in there. Then they will migrate back to the cave come around this time in the fall to go to their winter hibernacula.
Lastly, we have our migratory tree bats. Those are bats that migrate north and south for the winter, very similar to birds where they will go and migrate north during the summer and migrate south during the winter. Some, if they stay in temperatures that still require hibernation, they will enter into hibernation in their summer habitats, too.
>> Alright! That's good to know that there is kind of three categories of what their habitat is like.
>> So are bats strictly nocturnal or are some is it . . . crepuscular?
>> Yeah, so, bats are nocturnal. They are arousing at or after sunset and then going back to their roost in the morning. We do see peaks of activity from bats if we place out an acoustic detector which is a device that has a microphone that records bats as they fly by and we can identify the species based off their echolocation calls. We do get peaks of activity during right after sunset and right at sunrise. There is a bit of a rush hour, as it were, but that is when they will often fly out or return to a roost or roost wherever they find suitable habitat over the course of the night to rest, digest, and then move on. There is some peak of activity at sunrise and sunset, but they are nocturnal throughout the entire night.
>> Okay, gotcha. Do you have any tips on how you can identify a bat like flying? Whenever I have seen them, I feel like their fly pattern and like their wings. You know, you see a bird fly and to me it just seems like there is a clear destination like they are just going in a straight line kinda. But bats seem to be a little more erratic.
Would you agree?
>> Yeah, that is definitely true to the case. That can be just by the fly pattern and the beats of their wings, but it is also because they are actively foraging, too. They are echolocating as they are flying and detecting bugs and obstacles and figuring out how they want to respond to that. There is a lot of start stop behavior as they are flying through the air. They are interpreting the information that comes back to them while they are echolocating.
>> So tell us more about echolocation. What exactly is that and are bats the only members of wildlife that use echolocation?
>> No they are definitely not. So echolocation is a behavior of an animal emitting out a high frequency sound where it goes out and the sound waves strikes an object and it bounces back as an echo to that animal. They are able to take in that sound and interpret that as information. So they are able to determine "is this an obstacle, is this food, is this something I want to be close to or away from." They are able to take that information. So they are out there emitting high frequency sound waves and getting that information back in return and making decisions based on that.
>> Is it like they are seeing through sound in a way?
>> Not in the way that like media would have you interpret it. We don't know how a bat sees or how they interpret that within their brain but they do see and they can see in light as well as you and I can. That is something when we are actually working with bats and handling them, we try to avoid shining bright lights into their face because it can cause them discomfort. But they are responsive to that.
That is a realm of study that a lot of bat researchers are looking into is seeing how those echolocations come back and how bats might be misinterpreting certain objects as other things. There's like sheets of metal come back similar to water, so some biologists have been able to observe bats kind of checking out this piece of metal going, "is this water? Can I drink from this? No, okay I'm going to fly away from this."
>> Oh, interesting.
>> Yeah so that is something people are looking into and trying to learn more about.
>> Okay, so they put out these really high frequency high pitched sounds that obviously we can't hear.
>> Correct. Yes. Our larger bat species that migrate so like the hoary bat we are talking about can echolocate down into a range that humans can hear or they can click and make noises that we can interpret. But most of the frequencies are well and above our human range of hearing which is good because in terms of decibels of the volume that they put out, it would be like hearing a shooting range going out. They are very very loud. But, we can't hear them because it is very high frequency.
>> Oh my gosh but imagine if we could. That would just be annoying and it would probably do some damage to our ears I think all the time.
>> Yeah because they can echolocate up to the range of 140 decibels which is like a shooting range from 100 ft away.
>> Oh whoa!
>> If you are familiar with how loud that can be . . . yeah they are very loud.
>> Wow, that definitely puts it into perspective. Okay, so echolocation. They are putting out these high frequency sounds and then it bounces off nearby objects and then they kind of interpret what that is and they use this for feeding?
>> Yes, they will use it for navigation. We can see that kind of like where I was talking about earlier where we can use the acoustic detector to determine what species of bats are nearby because they will use frequency ranges and echolocate in terms of how fast they are echolocating and how many repeated beats they are making in relation to what type of activity or habitat that they use. A bat that is flying in very high clutter or looking for food will be making a lot of high pitched frequencies very close together because they are trying to take in all that information all at once. If they don't, tree. Or oh, there is a moth, and they will miss it. they will take in that information very quickly so they have to make very high frequency rapid echolocation calls.
Whereas a migratory species that is migrating at a high altitude where there is no obstructions or anything might be flying with no echolocation at all or is just occasionally echolocating as it goes just to make sure it doesn't find the one tall tree in the field.
>> Wow. I am kind of impressed. It seems like they are doing a lot whenever they are active like that.
>> Right, yes. So it is a very complicated process for them and that's why when you see a bat flying they look like they are clumsy or they might bump into something because there is a lot going on and if they get just a little bit of temporary interference it can be a lapse of information and while you are flying very fast that can cause you to bump into things.
>> I am glad you explained it that way. Seeing them fly like that makes a lot more sense now knowing what is going on.
>> Okay we talked about some hibernate and some migrate. Some are migrating right now? We are in the fall?
>> Yes, we are in the period. So to kind of go from here, the maternity season for bats ends right about mid-August where young of the year have been born, they have been raised up, and they are flying and independent from mom. Then the maternity colonies tend to break up like the maternity roosts that I talked about earlier. They tend to break out and kind of disperse across the landscape. That is when I usually start getting a lot of calls from people saying, "there is a bat on the side of my house," or "oh, I am seeing a bat I haven't seen before here." It is just like human teenagers, once they get a little older and independent from mom and dad they start wandering into places where mom and dad would be like, "No, no, don't go there." But, they tend to pop up in places. That was the phase we are just leaving out of.
Now we are moving into the migratory phase for bats where they are making their way to their hibernacula and engaging in false warm which is what we refer to as their mating period. They are finding their winter hibernacula and will will hang out there for a bit. All the males have basically moved there now, and the females will be coming in there now and looking for opportunities to mate before they go into hibernation. We were actually just out on Monday catching bats doing that.
>> Oh, really?
>> Last week, yeah.
>> Wow. Okay so what does a female look for in a male?
>> That is something that is relatively understudied right now. For one, bats have this tricky part of their biology being nocturnal so there is a lot of people out there researching bats but a lot of our understanding of them have really only gained a lot of momentum in the last 50 years. They are still relatively an understudied species compared to a lot of game species and others that we know so much about.
>> They've got that going against them. The other part of it is they are very secretive. They are hard to catch, they are hard to track once you catch one. It is really tough to figure that out yet. In terms of mate selection, we don't really know a lot about that just yet.
>> I have to wonder you know, if the female is looking for a guy with a decent job, you know, does he watch The Office.
>> That's hilarious. Well, that's interesting that there is still a lot to figure out about bats.
>> For sure.
>> Why do they hang upside down?
>> Sure, yeah, so, a lot of bat behavior and physiology is built around ways to save energy because flying is one if not the most physically taxing things that an animal can do. Being a mammal that does that, that means you have to have a really fast metabolism. You got to eat like crazy and do a lot of things to fuel that engine. You have to find ways to be efficient. In addition to that, so, bats are in the order Chiroptera which means hand wing. So their entire hands are devoted to wing empowered flight. So what that also means that in terms of like when we were talking about the vampire bat earlier, they are not as mobile using their arms as they would like to be. They hang upside down one, because it is easy. They can fly up and grab on with their hind feet and not have to worry about moving or climbing or doing anything to reposition after that. So, there is that part.
The other thing is that bats also have a physiological muscular and skeletal process that once they latch on to something with their hind feet it engages and holds passively. They are not burning any energy by hanging like that. Their body locks in and they are able to chill there and go to sleep or do whatever they need to do.
>> That makes me happy because I think at least whenever I think about it I think when humans hang on you are exerting so much energy, your forearms are working, you know "oh, I am losing my grip." But for them it is second nature, they are just oh, hanging out. Then of course their wings go around their bodies like that.
>> They fold up like that. When we go in and do hibernacula counts, one of my favorite bats to count is the gray bat because they tend to hibernate in ways that like my toddler kids crash and lay down in bed. They will lay down or they will be perched on the ceiling of the cave and have their wings all sprawled out, or they will be laying on top of another bat or something.
>> Yeah. So even though some are nice and tucked in and do those real tight clusters. Gray bats can also lay kind of loungey.
>> They are starfishing out in the cave. Oh wow.
>> They will be perched on another bat and just chilling like that.
>> That's hilarious, I did not know that.
>> They are one of my favorite species.
>> Getting back . . . we talked about echolocation. You said bats aren't the only ones. Do you know what other animals that use echolocation?
>> Yes, so a great example are dolphins and whales.
>> Oh, I think I knew that.
>> They will use that in terms of underwater as more of sonar type of information. They will still be emitting high frequency clicks and looking for food under the same surface or a far distance away from them, too.
>> Now that you say that, I think that I knew that too. So are they active like all through the night catching and feeding?
>> Yes, they can be. Like I was talking about earlier, their metabolism is very very fast. So, a pregnant female bat is easily eating her weight or more in insects a night just to fuel her metabolism as well as feed her young. So they are working through the night eating pests, eating bugs like crazy trying to fill their stomachs.
>> See that is a great transition into the benefit of bats is that they are great kind of pest control.
>> Yes, exactly. So a colony of big brown bats, that species that is most commonly found in people's homes and attics. A colony of them have been estimated to eat well over a million insects over the course of a year. So they are putting away across a species literal metric tons of insects off the landscape that could be agricultural pests, they could be human pests like mosquitoes and other bugs that we don't like to encounter. They are cleaning up the area at night basically feeding like mad fuel their nocturnal habits.
>> They are doing the work. They are getting it in.
So what other benefits of bats are there?
>> So another real interesting thing is as we are all well aware bats and diseases become a very hot topic a couple years ago. There is a lot of research now going into the immunosystems of bats and how that can play into human health through this one health perspective that is starting to gain a lot of momentum these days.
A lot of research is starting to look at North American bats because the old world bats or those major Chiroptera bats that we talked about earlier have been more studied but North American bats have been relatively understudied in comparison. We are getting out there and trying to see what viruses and diseases bats might be carrying. What is very interesting about bats is that they can be carrying diseases and viral loads that would normally put another animal in their size to death very quickly. Or be very inducing a lot of trauma and be very obvious and diagnostic and the bat is carrying it like nothing is going on. So there is a lot to look at in terms of their physiology and how they are able to deal with all these diseases and manage so well. There are a lot of folks looking at that in hopes to see how it could benefit us humans, too. There is a lot of research going on right now of how could bats possibly get us sick, how can we get them sick, and how do we live in this ecosystem together.
>> A lot to be learned from them.
>> Yes, exactly.
>> So, that is kind of one of the challenges that bats are facing, too. I know that there is this disease called white nose syndrome. Tell us about that.
>> So white nose syndrome is an invasive fungal pathogen that is a parasitic fungus. It first arrived in the United States on the east coast in 2006/2007 and has progressively worked its way across the whole North American continent. It is working its way through the Rockies right now.
It is a disease that is a fungus that exists in cave ecosystems and then whenever it encounters a bat it goes into parasitic mode and the tissues of the fungus dig into the bat and deplete into its metabolism while it is hibernating. Eventually because it is disturbing the bat and digging into its fat reserves and its water for the course of the winter, eventually it causes the bat to either starve to death or dehydrate over the course of the winter. The populations of bats have just been decimated since this disease has come into North America where caves that have encountered the disease have experienced population declines as much as 99%.
>> Oh my God!
>> So it is going from caves with thousands of bats in it to caves with a couple. It's really depressing and disheartening. As a younger person that has entered into this field, I get inside a cave and I see ten bats and I'm like, "Oh, my gosh, here's ten and this is great!" and I will be there with somebody who is more experienced than I and they are like, "there used to be a thousand here." It is hard to experience that moment. But, so yeah, bats are in trouble and they their populations are coming way down.
It is very difficult to manage this disease. What we have to look at and do as conservationists is find ways that we can minimize threats to bats elsewhere that we can control like habitat loss, or mortality causing from conflicts with humans and being able to mitigate those that way bats have their best fighting chance against this disease and only have to face one threat versus many.
>> Let's talk about that. I actually emailed you the other day because part of my job is to help manage MDC social media and we got a question from somebody who found a bat in their patio umbrella. I forwarded it to you. What do we do? A lot of times our answer when people encounter wildlife is "leave it be" but sometimes if you have a bat in your attic, you know, there is something you have to do. So tell us ways that people can minimize their impact if they happen to encounter bats on their property.
>> Certainly. Just like you said, the best thing I recommend to folks is that if these bats that you encounter are in a place or situation where there is no direct conflict or threat to you, the best thing you can do is leave them alone. Bats are migratory and they move around a lot on the landscape a lot over the course of the summer.
So, what you can do if you encounter one outside your house like perched on a building or anything like that is just leave it alone for a couple days and just wait it out. More than likely it will move on on its own. Just you being there and observing it will cause that bat disturbance. It will go, "there is a big predator over there, I might not want to come back here." If they are up on your awnings of your porch or something like that, another great thing to do is just leave your porch light on. If you have bright lights on in the area, they are a nocturnal animal that is trying to find a nice dark secretive place to hide so no raccoon or snake or something crawls up and gets them. So if they feel like they are being well lit and they feel like, well this isn't very secretive, they might move on and be like, "no, I don't want to be here." So those are kind of the best things to passively do but that is outside the home and relatively easy to deal with.
The other part that is another large amount of calls I get are folks finding bats that have moved into their attic or into an external building or basically any place that is open to the elements that bats are able to find a way in. And the first little plug I will do is we have some tips and tricks on our website.
If you go to the MDC website and search bat control you will be able to find a lot of useful tips on there about what to do. But, the big thing that we recommend for folks to do is if it is during the summer, specifically June and August to leave those bats alone until they have exited the maternal period. Those young are up and independent from mom so that way if you put up any type of exclusion device or anything to keep bats out of your house, babies don't get separated from mom because nobody wants that situation to occur.
That is really the best thing that you can do is look into things that are exclusion devices or seeking out a control service that is experienced with working with bats and it is able to work with you and help you through that process.
If it is just an individual bat, you know, not a colony in your attic but just a bat that happened to wander in the wrong neighborhood and find its way into your house, the biggest things that we recommend for folks to do is keep personal safety into mind.
So if there is ever concern about it potentially biting you or it biting a pet or your family, get into contact with your Department of Health and professionals first. If that is not a concern, then you look into how to get that bat out of your house. What I recommend folks to do is to put on a pair of heavy gloves, like gardening gloves are perfect. Find a container that you can get the bat kind of scooped into. As well as I recommend for folks to wear a mask. That's not for the chance of diseases coming for you but actually more of a concern of getting that bat sick like we were talking about earlier. We are still learning a lot about how humans and bats interact and we don't want to have the chance of our bat starting to carry another disease that could be a threat to them.
>> So mask up, gloves up, use a container and scoop that bat up and then go outside and find a nearby tree and let that bat perch on to that tree. Perched on to a tree is a natural and normal state for a bat. It is very low stress. They don't like to be contained in the box or put elsewhere or held flat on the ground or anything like that. They are low stress when they are on a tree. They will sit there, they will recover, they will likely climb up and fly away and be gone by morning.
The next best thing to do would be to find how they got in and try to prevent that from happening again.
>> Yeah, absolutely. But yeah it does happen that people get bats in their attic.
>> Yeah, it happens frequently and that is a lot of calls we get across the department. A lot of them are forwarded to me are handled by staff locally. By all means if you are ever stuck in a situation and you are confused, give us a call and we will help walk you through that process and help you understand that.
>> Minimizing human interactions definitely.
What other ways can we help bats with their declining population?
>> Sure, yeah. So another big thing just like we were talking about earlier where bats rise and fall out of hibernation frequently and the more you increase that, that is what white nose syndrome is doing. The more times you arouse a bat throughout hibernation is detrimental to it and will cause it to more rapdily decay over the course of the winter.
So another big thing to do is if you are ever in a situation where you are encountering roosting bats is to just leave them alone, low disturbance, move on and let them be. If you are ever going into a cave to make sure that you are there with landowner permission and that you are following decontamination and safety protocols and going with folks that are experienced and understand what they are doing to help minimize things like the spread of white nose syndrome from cave to cave. Doing your best to just minimize that disturbance to bats.
In addition to that, another useful thing that folks can do is to maintain summer habitat for bats. If you have the opportunity of having a lot of trees on your property and having a tree that is you know a big ugly snag that is still standing and has a lot of cavities in it. I would recommend as long as it is safe to keep it standing because that provides wonderful habitat for bats.
If you are in a situation where that is not safe, then my next recommendation is to consider putting up a bat house which is you know a wooden structure with some slats in it that basically allows for a roosting habitat for bats. That is a great alternative for bats whenever there is not suitable habitat nearby.
>> So one of our coworkers, Larry Archer, he is one of the editors for the Missouri Conservationist Marginalize I was at his house a few years ago and he has a lovely backyard and he put up a bat house. We think bird houses. Those are pretty common. But you don't really encounter a lot of bat houses. It was so tall. Do they have to be really really tall?
>> Sure. There is a list of recommendations. There is a great organization called Bat Conservation International which really stays up to date about the best way to put up a bat house and they have guidelines that they update frequently. I recommend folks to check out their website, they have plans and other things that you can look at to research bat houses more.
There is basically two main types that the average homeowner can use which is kind of a standard bat box. It is like an on wall mailbox but larger with an open bottom.
>> That's kind of the standard that a lot of people see. Those ones are fine to be 10-15 ft off the ground, preferably on the side of a building. Here in Missouri you want to have them painted gray, which would help with the sunlight and have it have a more consistent temperature throughout the summer for them so it reflects and absorbs enough light to be at the right temperature for bats. Then putting it up in a place that predators can't get at it.
So you can do it on the side of a building or you can do it on a post as well but once again recommending folks to have a little metal skirt that you put around the base of the pole or something to keep raccoon and snakes or something from getting up there.
The other type which is specific to poles is called a rocket box which is basically a small tight rectangular prison style of box that can go on the end of a post that can go on the end of a post you can put up too.
>> I think that's probably what he had. That thing was up there, it was like a flag pole.
>> Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, those are the two main types but you know as you go on a google research binge of them you can find bat condos which are spaces that would fill this room in terms of how big they are of structures that can hold thousands of bats inside them.
>> How lucky for them.
>> You could go all out if you wanted to.
>> You could, you could.
Okay. So what about limiting your use of pesticides and insecticides on your lawn. Is that beneficial?
>> Yeah, definitely. So bats are a natural pesticide. They will be out there foraging on insects in and around humans. So a great thing to do is to limit your use of pesticides that way the insect biodiversity is high and therefore bat usage of that foraging area will be high, too.
>> Good to know. All good tips so we can help our bats here in Missouri. Jordan, one last thing I want to ask you. Why did you want to study bats? Why did you want this to be your job?
>> Sure. Yeah. So, I have always been intrigued and fascinated by rare and endangered species. That was something that I really got a passion for when I started going down this career path in college. And the other part of that too was that I always just got drawn to kind of the odd animals of endangered species. I actually got my start with prairie rattlesnake up in western Missouri. I got my start working with rattlesnakes and having to talk about them and convince folks as they came and visited the refuge I was working at and help them understand how these animals are beneficial to us and they are great. They are odd. They are scary. But they are really a good thing that should be respected and frankly adored, at least from my perspective.
>> Oh yeah.
>> I loved that opportunity to defend an odd species to folks and really get them invested. One of my favorite things about this job is whenever I get the chance to bring somebody that is a little iffy about bats, not quite convinced that they are cute or you know, not icky in some way and I give them a chance to see a bat in person.
When I have one in my hand and they can lean in close and see this cute little puppy dog face and then suddenly they are convinced because they are just flying sky puppies at that point. They immediately fall in love 9 times out of 10.
>> They are kind of flying dogs in a way.
>> So, the big thing that I recommend for folks is that bats do not make great pets. There are wonderful organizations and rehabbers out there that are trained and experienced and do know what they are doing. The thing that I would recommend most for folks is that if they are ever in that situation to get in contact with us or organizations like Bat World Sanctuary or others where folks are trained and understand how to deal with bats.
>> You want to care for them but again the best thing you can do is leave them wild and if they injured, like you say, contact the right people.
>> Yes, correct.
>> So what's that like going in a cave to see the bats? Do they hear you coming? Do they wake up a little bit when you come in? Do you have to try to be quiet?
>> Yeah so that is a big goal of ours is to minimize disturbance. I have to take a moment to do a shout out because us doing our winter hibernacula work of going out and counting bats is a huge kind of bat community effort with us, partner agencies like Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri DNR, US Forests Service, US Parks Service, non governmental organizational groups like Cave Research Foundation, Missouri Bat Census. Just to name a few. We have to do this big collaborative effort to be able to go out during the winter and get an effective idea of how many bats there are on Missouri's landscape.
It is a huge collaborative effort. But going back to your question. Going into a cave. What we really focus on is minimizing the disturbance to bats. We go into a cave. We are wearing coveralls, and rubber boots, and everything that we bring into a cave we sanitize when we bring it out because we are concerned about spreading diseases from cave to cave and we don't want to impact our bats that way.
Then we go into our cave and we have our head lamps and our helmets in and we are doing everything we can to look into every nook and cranny of the cave to be able to see and observe where these bats are. When they are small groups or individuals, we will do a quick head count and jot that down on our data as we move along. But if there is a big cluster or they are very high up or far away, what we do is we use a telephoto lens with a high mega pixel camera and we will take a really zoomed in photo of that bat cluster. Then come back to the office and count the bats up that way. That way we are not standing there with bright spotlights directly under them and disturbing them while they are trying to hibernate.
>> Yeah so we take a photo and then I am able to sit, myself or Carl Janski, my bat pal that works with me. We will sit in the office and count bats as we go through there. It is much more comfortable that way with a cup of coffee and not with your neck craned up trying to count bats. We will go in and move in as quietly and as low disturbance as we can through a cave to be able to get an effective idea of what our bats are doing and most of our work is done on MDC property within our caves which are closed off to the public due to white nose syndrome and those concerns. We have an opportunity to go in there and count those bats.
>> If people want to learn more about bats are there any resources out there? You were talking about the Bat Conservation International?
>> Yeah and our website will be a great starting point for a lot of people on that. As well, we do a lot of outreach and presentations as well as partner organizations go out. The week of Halloween is by reputation Bat Week in our field. There is a lot of outreach that happens that week of Halloween.
>> One thing I wanted to mention is I think October is Bat Appreciation Month.
>> Yes, yeah.
>> Yeah, so, it is a very fitting topic to feature for our Nature Boost October episode. It is the last week of Halloween is Bat Week? Okay.
>> Yeah, often you will see lots of presentations whether they are over online or happening in person. Get out there, and get looking for Bat Week and you will usually find a lot of material.
>> Is there any type of like citizen science efforts that people can participate in?
>> Sure, so there is North American Bat Monitoring which is a way to get out and acoustically survey for bats which has a lot of citizen science opportunities for that. A lot of it focuses on the acoustic detection that I talked about because that's relatively very easy work. You just have to be a specialized piece of equipment to get out there and study and survey for bats that way.
Bats are very fascinating creatures but the important thing is to appreciate them from a distance. The most we can do, the best that we can do for bats is to just leave them alone and let them go through their lives undisturbed and to grow and repopulate as they face these varying threats that they are going through. The last thing we want to do is add to those stresses. The best thing that any person can do for bats is to leave them alone and only help them when they need to and when they can.
>> Awesome. Jordan, thank you so much for joining me today. I have learned so much about bats.
>> Thank you
>> I really appreciate your time today.
>> Any time. As I'm sure you can tell, I love talking about bats and I will just geek out for hours on end with people. I am happy to be here.
>> A huge thanks again for Jordan Meyer for the interview. If you want to learn more about Missouri's bats, visit our online field guide at Missouriconservation.org or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
And a reminder, we want to hear from you! If there is a topic you would like covered on Nature Boost, send us a message at missouriconservation.org/natureboost. Stay tuned for November's episode where we're talking turkey and how cooking up this game bird came to be a Thanksgiving tradition.
I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.