Tracking Bats Electronically

Where do endangered Indiana bats go when they leave their caves at the end of the winter? To find out, The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee has worked with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service each spring for several years to attach tiny transmitters to the bats that emit a signal that can be tracked. 

The entrance to a gated cave in Stewart County. We added the gate to keep vandals out. But bats and other creatures can freely move in and out.

Looking down into the cave, Cory Holliday (Tennessee Cave Program Director) and others collect bats to be tagged.

Searching for bats to tag in what the team refers to as the "bat crack," a spot in the cave that is an Indiana bat roosting area. 

Using teamwork to look for Indiana bats. 

The cave gate protects the endangered bats that call it home. 

"Learning more about where these bats roost and reproduce in the summer should help our ability to protect them," says Cory Holliday

A crew of scientists are at the ready to quickly tag the bats and release them back into the wild. 

The bats only weigh a quarter of an ounce (the weight of about three pennies), and the transmitters are even smaller!

The transmitters are attached to the bats with surgical glue. The glue doesn't harm the bats, and they tend to shed the transmitters in 10-14 days, leaving enough time to track them. 

Cory Holliday holds a bat in the process of being tagged with the tiny transmitter. 

Learning more about where these bats roost allows scientists to work with landowners on landscape management decisions that can provide high-quality habitats for the bats. 

As the day comes to an end, the crew release the bats back into the wild and prepare for the next step: flying electronic spotting planes to track the bats' progress. The crew in the planes get general fixes on the bats' location from the air and then relay those locations to ground crews in trucks and SUVs who use their own receivers to track the bats to specific tree locations. 

For the most part, the Indiana bats tracked in April 2016 went to locations where they had been tracked in previous years. However, two of the bats crossed the state line into Arkansas and Kentucky to new locations where these bats had not been tracked before. All of the tracking information increases our knowledge about the locations that these rare bats prefer, and that knowledge will help us protect them. 

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