Missing Halloween in The USA was a glum moment for us. No one does costumes, candy and haunted houses the way we do in America, so we decided to get our fix by getting chummy with a Halloween icon that we could find: the bat.
Although tradition shows bats flying around horror scenes and sucking blood from humans, they are actually very helpful, non-obtrusive creatures.
The Micro Bats living in Melbourne, Australia’s Botanical Gardens are being studied by a group of scientists to determine what effect urbanization has on this species. By capturing the nocturnal critters, the scientists also hope to find answers to many unknown aspects of their life and assist in medical breakthroughs for humans. For example, bats may hold clues for skin grafting, since the wings repair very quickly when ripped even though they have no source of blood to this paper-thin membrane.
We arrived in The Botanical Gardens, a beautifully-maintained, diverse, 89-acre park consisting of plants from all over the world, and met the EarthWatch team of volunteers and scientists. Before dusk, the eight of us set up large, harp-like traps under places where the trees met in an arch over pathways. These areas are most likely to attract bats since they have to fly under the curvature of the branches at night. Soon dusk arrived and the rest of the public was ushered out of the park, the gates locked by the night watchman. Our senses heightened to the nighttime sounds and we were alone with the bats! Now it was time to wait for them to fly into the soft strings of our traps and slide down into the canvas bags below. We returned to the workers’ quarters, where we set up cots and asked the guides questions over tea and snacks. Around 11 pm it was time to check the traps.
We felt like Ghost Busters, venturing out with sonar and headlamps, peeking into the sacks below the traps. Soon we found two long-eared bats, surprisingly cute and furry. The scientists scooped them out with their bare hands, since rabies is not a concern in Australia, and confirmed that both of them were females. We placed them in small satchels where they curled up and relaxed while we checked our other traps to no avail.
Back at the workers’ quarters, our guides retrieved the bats and weighed them in at 7 and 10 grams. Feeling the belly of the larger bat, the scientist shared the news that this one was pregnant. We recorded their stats, where we’d found them, and then clipped a piece of fur off their backs to mark them. At the end of the season all data will be analyzed and then made available to other scientists for further study. We released the bats back into the park, where they quickly flittered off to eat their weight’s worth in mosquitoes and other bugs.
In the early morning, we rose and walked the gardens before the public gates opened in order to check the traps once more. No more bats were caught during the night, so we disassembled the traps and carried everything back to the quarters, where a hot breakfast awaited.
EarthWatch provided us with more than we expected. Not only were we of assistance to their project, but we took away so much knowledge of bats and an appreciation for field study. We are no longer alarmed by bats, although I do prefer to see them in nature and not inside our house, as I did on Christmas Eve two years ago! The scientists’ passion for their work really motivated us to learn more and the overnight trip including accommodation and food was perfectly planned and executed.
We would highly recommend this organization for any eco-trips or volunteering you wish to do, and we will definitely volunteer with EarthWatch again. Thanks to our EarthWatch guides for making this a fun, productive project!