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Plentiful bat sounds are encouraging news for local myotis population, says RDP researcher

‘The more bat research that’s done, the more there is yet to do,’ says biology instructor Sally Stuart
The little brown bat is common in Central Alberta and B.C. but is endangered in some other parts of Canada. (Black Press file photo/SM Bishop)

It sounds like Red Deer’s little brown bat population is hanging in there.

A Red Deer Polytechnic research project led by biology instructor Sally Stuart has been picking up a lot of audio of high-frequency bat sounds at two monitoring locations this spring — near the River Bend Golf Course as well as her acreage on Cygnet Lake between Red Deer and Sylvan Lake.

This indicates the local bat population is still thriving, despite indications a fatal fungal infection that’s killed bats elsewhere in North America is present in this area.

Of course, the multitude of taped bat sounds could also mean that “we’re hearing from the same bat again and again,” said Stuart, but she feels this is a less likely scenario.

The instructor has been monitoring bats with her students since 2019. She was initially interested in learning whether construction of the North Highway connector road in Red Deer would impact the bat population around River Bend Golf Course.

But after hearing another Alberta scientist speak about finding some evidence the fatal fungal inflection known as white nose syndrome is now in the area, Stuart felt her monitoring project could be put to a broader use.

The pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus usually affects bats during hibernation. Powdery growth on their skin causes the bats to wake prematurely, dehydrate and starve.

This spring, Stuart feared fewer sounds would be picked up by her recording equipment. Instead, she found a comparable number of bat sounds as in previous years — which she believes is an encouraging sign.

High-frequency bat sounds usually can’t be picked up by the human ear, but the computer software program can not only record them but also try to differentiate sounds that help various bats locate their prey.

The computer identified mostly little brown bats and others from the Myotis family that are common in this area, although a few larger silver-haired bats and hoary bats have also been detected, said Stuart.

Capturing bats is not practical, since the animals are known to carry rabies, so the instructor and her students are happy to just monitor for their sounds, for now. But Stuart said a lot of questions still need to be answered about Central Alberta’s bat, such as where do they go to hibernate? The nearest known bat caves are near Hinton. “With bats you realize the more research that’s done, the more there is yet to do.”

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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