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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mist netting for bats!!! PART I

Big brown bat in mist net
(6/11, Canandaigua, NY)
I just got my first taste of mist netting for bats and I am hooked! I have been catching birds for almost 15 years but have no experience with bats. Thanks to a grant from the NSF, several of us have been able to participate in training to increase our field research skills. Clinton Krager from the Science Department wanted to start a project on bats and I asked to tag along for the training he would need to receive.

Step one in the process was to find someone willing to conduct the training. I suggested Micheal Fishman, whom I first met through our mutual volunteerism at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge about a decade ago. Micheal readily agreed and a date was settled for early June.

Step two was to get our rabies pre-exposure vaccinations. This was a series of three shots, over about a month and is the same as what one would receive AFTER a bite.

Clinton Krager (center) and Micheal Fishman (right)
(6/11, Canandaigua NY)
The evening started with all participants (faculty, staff, students and alums of FLCC) enjoying a very informative presentation by Micheal while we scarfed down pizza and soda and peppered him with questions. We learned what to look for in identifying the nine species of bats in NY while in the hand as well as a fair amount of anatomy and physiology. The lecture concluded with a discussion of rabies and of course, white nose syndrome (WNS). For those of you not familiar with WNS, let me refer you to the NYS DEC website for more information.

Micheal uses a triple stacked net rig. On this day, we erected three sets, each six meters wide and 2.6 meters high. Each handler was required to wear leather gloves with rubber gloves over them. The rubber gloves were thrown out before a new bat was handled to reduce the chances of transferring anything (such as fungus or rabies virus) from one bat to another.

Our catch for the night:
Seven big brown bats
One little brown bat
Since we did not mark the bats, we cannot confirm (but suspected one) any recaptures. We got to see males and females (one pregnant) and Micheal taught us how to evaluate the nipple to determine if the females had been successful breeders in the past.

Tanner DeWolf removes bat from mist net
(6/11, Canandaigua NY)
I found the process of removing the bats from the mist net similar but not identical to removing birds. For example, birds do not bite through nets as the bats seemed to do. In addition, the wings on a bat are just shaped so differently from bird wings that I had some difficulty working the net over them at first. When I first started netting birds, I always carried a small Swiss army knife so I had scissors and a toothpick handy. The scissors are a last resort, but the toothpick worked great to tease the net off a toe or over the alula feathers. Micheal and his assistant Tanner used mechanical pencils to help them get the net strands off the bats and it worked like a charm.
John Van Niel removing bat from mist net
(Photo by Elaina Burns)
We only caught one little brown bat, but I got to take it out of the net. To tell you the truth, I wasn't sure of the identity of the species until Micheal confirmed it for us at the processing station. As I get to handle more bats, I am sure that I will get better at identifying them in the hand.

Measuring the tragus on a
little brown bat

Bat bands
(6/11, Canandaigua NY)
We did not band the bats but Micheal showed us the bands. On a bird, you band just above the toes. On a bat, you place the band on the wing. Further, a bird band is closed completely around the bird's "leg" (actually the foot... for some discussion and photos about bird banding see this post ) while a bat band is pinched onto an arm bone (sort of like an ear cuff is placed on a person's ear).

The final two photos of this entry show photos of back lit wings of two different big brown bats (they were pretty imaginative when they names these species weren't they??). The back lighting shows any necrotic tissue present that may be from WNS. This first photo does not show much damage. You are looking for small white spots...
In this next photo, the damage is more extensive.
Photographing wing to show necrotic tissue
(6/11, Canandaigua NY)
And this was all on Friday! I still have Saturday to write about....
Clinton Krager
(6/11, Canandaigua NY)


  1. I'm doing research on bats also and found they were really interesting animal besides exciting experience gained :)

    1. I am interested in hearing more about what you got to do. Feel free to share!


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