by Owen Carroll, Lead Instructor
Have you ever seen a bat in Yellowstone? I usually see these nocturnal animals as I finish fishing on the small lakes I frequent during summer evenings. Yellowstone is home to 13 species of bats. The little brown bat is the most commonly encountered of these. This regional subspecies was first identified at Lake Hotel in 1904.
These and other bats play an important role in ecosystems, since they consume 3,000 to 7,000 insects in a single night. Small wonder they feed on these evening hatches as voraciously as the trout I pursue!
Bats are unfortunately threatened by a disease called white-nose syndrome that has decimated some populations. Although it has not yet reached Yellowstone, biologists are concerned about the possible threat this disease poses. To manage bats in a way that preserves their long-term viability, research focuses on the distribution, activity, and habitat use by these animals.
This is done by two methods: the first involves attaching radio-frequency identification (RFID) transmitters to bats, which can be used to track movements. Secondly, biologists use specialized equipment to record and analyze the sounds bats emit to echolocate their prey. These sounds are analogous to a bat screaming at the top of its lungs, and each species has a unique variation.
Although bats may not have the established charisma of others, they are as essential to this landscape as the geysers, mountain valleys, and more visible wildlife that generally catch our attention. Next time you spend an evening in the park, keep an eye out for these inimitable and invaluable creatures that truly contribute to the wonder of Yellowstone.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Yellowstone Quarterly magazine.
Yellowstone Forever funds the park work and research on bats through the Yellowstone Bat Study. Learn more at www.yellowstone.org/bat-study.
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