by Ken Warren, USFWS
Tracking bats is going to the dogs. Literally.
If all goes according to plan this winter, a team of trained dogs and a handler from Auburn University will come to down south to help us find Florida bonneted bats, an elusive candidate species whose natural history is not fully understood.
The elusive Flordia bonneted bat. (Photo: Kathleen Smith/Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission)
Normally, the Service tracks bats and other animals using radio telemetry, but we need to use dogs in this case. Radio telemetry was tried before with captive bonneted bats, but they didn’t tolerate attached radio transmitters very well.
So, Service biologists Paula Halupa and Marilyn Knight of the South Florida Ecological Services Office have come up with a more innovative approach: Trained dogs
Known as Eco-Dogs, these special canines locate targets in the field for natural resource managers, conservationists, researchers and industry. They’ve been trained to detect everything from bears to pythons to invasive root fungi. In this case, they’ll be specifically trained to detect the scent of Florida bonneted bat feces or “guano.”
Charm, an EcoDog, is poised and ready for action. (Photo: Courtesy Auburn University)
The current plan calls for the team to deploy into selected areas of south Florida between December and February because the dogs work more efficiently in cooler weather. The initial searches will happen where these bats live in artificial bat houses and have been identified by their unique echolocation calls on other portions of the property.
The dogs’ job will be to track the bats down to where they naturally roost, whether in cavity trees abandoned by woodpeckers or in some other type of natural cover. Once that’s determined researchers will have a much better idea of how far these bats travel to forage and what types of habitats they prefer. That information will help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service better protect them and their habitat.
Florida bonneted bats are the largest bats in Florida. Their common name derives from their large broad ears that slant forward over their eyes. And bugs beware: According to the Florida Bat Conservancy, most insectivorous bats, such as the Florida bonneted bat, eat their body weight in insects each night. The Service is working with various public and private land managers in south Florida on this project.
Ken Warren is Public Affairs Officer for the South Florida Ecological Services Office of the USFWS in Vero Beach, Fla.