tracking the lives of microbats
Microbats are found all over Australia, and they are very important for the ecosystem because they eat loads of insects. They are amazing and wonderful animals. The only mammals who can fly, the females feed their young with milk. They vary in size, but can fit into the palm of one hand.
Since 1994 a research program has been tracking the lives of these creatures in three locations in or near Melbourne. The people involved are enthusiastic citizen scientists, as well as academic researchers. They track the bats by monthly inspections of bat boxes. Bats are banded so they can be identified.
I went along to the project a few times recently. The first thing is to climb to the bat boxes using tall ladders and safety ropes. To do this people need to have completed an accredited training in climbing.
The rest of us wait on the ground.
Some boxes have lots of bats inside. Some have other occupants, like spiders or ants.
The bats are carefully removed and put into these white bags, that are labelled with the box number.
Then the bags are taken to a comfortable work space, where they are inspected and details such as where they were found, their weight and whether pregnant recorded. If they haven't been banded, they are banded. You can't handle the bats unless you've completed a course of rabies vaccinations, so the rest of us help by recording.
Some bats carry the Lyssavirus, rabies-related virus. You want to make sure they don't bite you for two reasons. One, you don't want to risk getting rabies. If it did bit you, you would be protected by the vaccination, but the bat would be killed and dissected to determine whether it does carry the virus.
This male Broadnose is identified by the number 96518. He has been captured 9 times being banded in January 2015.
When the recording has been done and it is dark the bats are taken back to where they came from, and released.
All microbats are vulnerable because without bat boxes they depend on tree hollows to shelter in during the day and to breed. Tree hollows have declined due to land clearing. Competition with aggressive birds like the introduced Indian Myna birds add to the problem.
This is just one of many, many opportunities for citizen scientists to help scientists track the effects of climate change on the environment. For more details of this project check out its website, Melbourne's Bat Monitoring Program.