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How to Catch a Bat

June 27, 2013

Post by Paige Brown, Museum Blogger-in-Residence.

Have you ever walked around in the woods at night thinking, hmm, I wonder how I would catch a bat if I wanted to see one up close and study it?

Flying Bats, Image via Flickr.com, by Stuart Anthony.

Flying Bats, Image via Flickr.com, by Stuart Anthony.

Well, small mammal researchers at the Museum have this particular science down to an art. I recently made a late night trip out to Hofmann forest, just north of Jacksonville NC, with Lisa Gatens, Curator of Mammals at the Museum. Hofmann is a research forest where Gatens and other Museum staff and volunteers recently conducted an expedition to find out more about what kind of bat species live in the coastal plain of North Carolina.

The first step to catching a bat is to put on rubber boots and scrubs, and to make sure all the equipment you use can be cleaned with bleach or really hot water after you catch your bat. This is because a nasty disease that has been wiping out hibernating bats in mountainous regions of the U.S., called white-nose syndrome, may spread through a fungus that may live on equipment used at different bat-netting sites, for example. Because white-nose syndrome is killing millionsof insect-eating bats in the U.S., it is very important that when going on a bat expedition, you don’t accidentally walk away with the fungus and spread it to other bat populations.

This is how you should be dressed when you catch a bat! This is a picture of me taken by my sister, (C) Angie's Photography.

This is how you should be dressed when you catch a bat! This is a picture of me taken by my sister, (C) Angie’s Photography.

The next thing you have to do is string a very fine mesh “mist net” across a road or trail in the woods that is protected by overhanging branches, so that bats can’t fly over the net. The best place to string this net is around a curve in the trail, so that bats flying around the curve at night won’t see or expect the net. The net should hang almost all the way down to the ground. However, if hanging nets above a puddle or other body of water, a space should be left above the water so that the bats won’t accidentally drown when caught in the lower part of the net.

Lisa Gatens and other Museum staff and volunteers set up a bat mist net in Hofmann Forest. Photo by Paige Brown, (C) Paige's Photography, http://paigesphotos.photoshelter.com/.

Lisa Gatens and other Museum staff and volunteers set up a bat mist net in Hofmann Forest. Photo by Paige Brown, (C) Paige’s Photography, http://paigesphotos.photoshelter.com/.

Once the sun goes down and darkness comes upon the woods, you can drop your nets from tall polls on either side of a road or trail. Be careful not to let the nets down before dusk, or you might catch birds instead!

Bats fly at night to eat insects and drink water. They usually fly the same paths night after night, so if you stick a net along this path, they won’t expect it at all. Bats do echolocate, but they don’t do this all the time, especially when they are flying a path they already know (like when you wake up in the middle of the night and don’t have to turn the lights on to find the bathroom in your house!)

Next, you wait. You wait for a long time, perhaps until midnight or later! You will have to check your nets every few minutes, to make sure that any bats you net don’t get too stressed out and hurt themselves struggling to get out of the net.

To handle a bat (this is very important!) you will need special bat-handling gloves. You will also need to have had preventative rabies shots, because bats can carry this disease, and they will try to bite when caught!

Once you’ve caught your bat, you can weigh your bat in a paper bag and take hair samples to make sure your bat hasn’t been eating any toxic substances that humans sometimes dump into the environment. You should try to take pictures and analyze your bat as quickly as possible, to not stress the bat out too much. Within three to five minutes, you should be letting your bat fly back to its roost.

And that is how you catch a bat!

However, please know that only trained scientists and researchers should try to catch and handle bats. These animals are wild, and several species are endangered from white-nose syndrome, so we have to be very careful how we handle them. If you visit a cave where bats might live, you should wear old clothes that can be either thrown away or washed in extremely hot water.

If you see any sick bats, you can contact Lisa Gatens at lisa.gatens@naturalsciences.org. If you have any pictures of bats, send them our way!

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