While Halloween festivities come to an end as we move into November, it’s important to remember that animals associated with Halloween—most notably bats—are important all year long.
Along with other AZA-accredited facilities, the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is taking steps to help bats. Going beyond the bats’ reputation of being “scary,” Zoo staff hope to spread the message that these animals play an important role in an ecosystem.
As part of a study to find out how many species of bats are living in the Chicago area, conservationists at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI) are sending out a Bat Signal to the public for help.
Members of the Chicago community are invited to submit their bat photos, bat stories, and bat tips to . Scientists are especially interested in any information about colonies in the area that they may be able to study.
“Bats are a great asset to an urban community, and we want to encourage Chicagoans to embrace them as good neighbors to have,” said Urban Wildlife Research Coordinator Julia Kilgour. “There are lots of common misconceptions about bats, and it is important to us to spread the word that these little guys are not out to get people. In fact, they’re incredibly helpful to humans–for example, they are huge consumers of insects like mosquitos, and essential pollinators for many wild and agricultural plants.”
While there are eight known bat species in the state of Illinois, there is no tally of how many bats live in greater Chicago. To find out, zoo scientists are listening in on bat calls through special detectors placed around the region. Affixed to trees, poles, and fences, the devices pick up the sonic patterns (echolocation calls) of bats and allow researchers to isolate the calls by species.
So far, UWI has found evidence of four species of bats in the vicinity of Lincoln Park Zoo: big brown bats, eastern red bats, silver-haired bats, and hoary bats. Getting an accurate idea of which species are local will help scientists monitor the population and possibly gain insight down the road into the biggest ever threat to bats – white nose syndrome.
White nose syndrome is a fungal disease that has decimated bat populations in the eastern United States. While it has not yet been detected in Illinois, the syndrome has killed an estimated 6 million bats and is spreading west. At this rate, scientists worry that bats will be extinct in a matter of years.
“Bats are vulnerable, and the more we know about them, the better,” said Kilgour. “That’s why we are asking the public to be our eyes and ears as we all work to understand these mysterious and often invisible creatures.”
For additional information about the Lincoln Park Zoo’s project, please visit http://www.lpzoo.org/conservation-science/projects/monitoring-bat-diversity-and-around-chicago.
Contributing writer: Tiffany Ruddle