Researchers Return to RRNP for Bats & Brats [Photo Tour]

A team of biologists with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program of Colorado State University recently returned to YVLT’s Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve for the third consecutive year to study the large maternal bat colony residing in the historic Main House.

Led by Rob Schorr and Jeremy Siemers, the researchers joined YVLT at the Rehder compound to enjoy some grilled bratwurst before night set in, when the bats begin to stir from their mid-day lull.

Dinner

Locating a suitable research facility to study bats was one of the team’s biggest challenges, explained Jeremy.  “Abandoned buildings like [the RRNP Main House] are ideal for us; the hard part is finding a place where people don’t mind the bats living there,” he said.  

Rob concurred.  “We didn’t want to invest time and money in a project where the test group gets kicked out shortly thereafter, so this was a great opportunity for us,” he explained.

During their visit to Routt County, the team will also conduct bat research at the Carpenter Ranch, a Hayden-area property under conservation easement with YVLT.  The multi-year study is documenting mortality rates among “little brown bats,” a population that has been decimated in recent years by the spread of White Nose Syndome (read more about the disease here).  Researchers are also examining the bats’ activity levels at various times of year and how often they enter and exit the roost.

Harp Trap

Pika inspecting the harp trap alongside Jeremy.

Members of the team spent the afternoon getting the Rehder facility ready for the evening’s research, including setting up the “harp trap” pictured above.  The basic premise is this: researchers temporarily seal off the porch with netting, so when the bats emerge from their roost inside the Main House at dusk, they get funneled into the harp trap, depositing the bats into a bag situated below.

The biologists then “process” the bats by taking their weight and forearm measurements, photographing their wings (fun fact: the veins on their wings are unique to every individual, like fingerprints are to humans), and affixing a “PIT tag” – Passive Integrated Transponder.  A PIT tag is similar to RFID tags for cats and dogs, assigning a particular frequency to each bat which allows researchers to determine when bats are coming in and out of the roost, as well as documenting their seasonal activity.

Setup

Jeremy and Rob prep the house before the bats ramp up their evening activity.

“There are probably a few hundred bats inside,” Jeremy estimated.  “This is predominantly a female roost; they give birth and raise their young here.  They actually love hot attics like this with the metal roof insulation.”

“We think the bats love this facility because they can get any temperature range they want,” Rob explained.  “They can move around from hot to cool areas.  Some were even discovered happily roosting at 113 degrees Fahrenheit.”

As the evening crept in, bats began to emerge from the roost and the researchers got back to work.

At Work

The process involves weighing the bats, taking forearm measurements, determining their age and sex, and tagging them with Passive Innovative Transponders.  PIT tags allow researchers to track the bats from day-to-day and year-to-year.

At Work-2

“The Rehder Ranch has become a study site for a wide range of groups – biologists from across the county have come here,” said Rob.

We think the Rehder Ranch is pretty special, too.  YVLT always enjoys hosting the CNHP team – thanks for visiting us at RRNP!

YVLT Helps Eagles – and Bats – Soar!

Bat HouseEagle Scout Ian Savage and RRNP Caretaker Ryan Gelling showcase the luxurious new bat accommodations.

Seventeen-year old Eagle Scout Ian Savage stopped by the YVLT office this week to present us with his latest project, which he appropriately titled “Batman’s House.”

In search of a meaningful service project for the Eagle Scouts, Ian reached out to YVLT about the bat colony living at the Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve, which is believed to house one of the largest maternal bat roosts in Northwest Colorado.  After discussing his ideas with YVLT Executive Director Susan Dorsey, Ian set out to build houses for the 600+ bats that reside at the Rehder Ranch.

“First, I had to learn how bats live and what they would need; the kinds of living conditions these houses would have to provide,” explains Ian.  “I couldn’t believe how many insects the bats ate every day!”

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After studying up on bats and logging in hours of research, Ian assembled a team of 15 Scouts to build five houses capable of supporting up to 300 bats each (“I was surprised to find out how tiny they are,” he says).  The intricate hand-build houses, shown above, are the product of over 65 hours of hard work.

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“Eagle Scout” is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America – a position Ian has been working towards since the fifth grade.  His next big project: after graduating from high school in two years, he hopes to earn a degree in microbiology fermentation science.  Thank you, Ian, for building new homes for our resident bats at the Rehder Ranch!

Interested in bat activity at YVLT’s Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve?  YVLT recently hosted a team of bat researchers at RRNP – click here to read more!

Bat Updates from the Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve

 

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Colorado Biologists Concerned by Latest Spread of Fungal Disease in Bats

By Scott Franz, Steamboat Pilot & Today (April 5, 2016)

Steamboat Springs — Biologists in Colorado are on high alert after a deadly fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in the Eastern United States suddenly jumped 1,300 miles and killed a bat on the West Coast near Seattle.

For the first time, the bats in this state are surrounded by white nose syndrome on two fronts, and the scientists who are racing to learn more about the small and elusive animals are worried.

“We’re all kind of nervous,” Rob Schorr, a bat researcher with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, said Monday after sitting in on an emergency phone call with a working group of bat biologists from western states who were discussing the latest case in Washington. “How do you control this when you don’t know how it got to where it is now? The people in Colorado are still trying to wrestle with what this does actually mean.”

Some scientists think the latest case was spread by humans, because the fungus can be transported on shoes and clothing.

But Schorr said biologists currently have more questions than answers about the latest case of the fungal disease in bats.

Can it be as devastating in the west as it has been in the east?

Before last week, no cases of white nose had been detected west of the Rocky Mountains.

The fungus, which was first detected in 2006, kills bats in a cruel way by making them itchy in the winter and waking them up when they need to be hibernating and conserving energy.

In some areas on the East Coast, the fungus has killed entire populations of bats, leaving the skies without an important predator.

Scientists fear if the disease continues to spread and wipe out large bat populations, there could be big consequences.

“Anytime an unfamiliar disease gets into a native wildlife population, there’s a lot at stake,” Tina Jackson, species conservation coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said Monday.

In Colorado, Jackson said, one of the greatest benefits of bats is insect control.

A single little brown bat, a common species in Colorado that is most threatened by white nose, can eat as many as 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour.

Jackson said while the detection of white nose in Washington is troubling, it could also present opportunities.

“If there can be an upside, it might make us focus more and not get complacent,” Jackson said. “All of a sudden, it does sort of raise the antennae back up and have us say its not time to relax. This is still important.”

She added the case also gives scientists here an opportunity to watch how the disease plays out in a state that has more in common with Colorado in terms of climate and habitat than the East Coast states where the fungus originated.

“In a lot of ways, the way white nose reacts in the Pacific Northwest is going to be a lot more similar to how it will react here,” she said. “We’re going to be very interested in what’s happening up there and hopeful they can come up with some great ideas and help us out if it gets here.”

In the meantime, efforts continue to better understand the 18 species of bats that call Colorado home.

And white nose’s jump may make research Schorr has been doing on a large maternity colony of little brown bats on a ranch on the shores of Lake Catamount south of Steamboat Springs even more critical.

Two years ago, the researcher implanted small transponders in the wings of several bats so their arrival and departure from the Rehder Ranch could be tracked.

Click the video to watch bat researchers in action at the Rehder Ranch!

With just one year of data, Schorr said he has already learned some things about the little brown bats.

“My assumptions that the bats stay there all summer long is wrong,” he said as he described how data showed the bats would periodically leave the Rehder Ranch during the summer. “They take week hiatuses. My theory is, they are going to another roost.”

Schorr said he was also surprised to learn the bats don’t seem to stick around here past the middle of September.

“I thought they were staying until October or November,” he said.

The study is still in its infancy, however, and biologists still have not been able to confirm where these bats go in the winter.

“It’s still early in the process for an animal that can live for 40 years,” Schorr said of his research.

Over the next couple of years, Schorr can catch the bats, scan their unique PIT tags and track changes to the bats over time.

With baseline data, he’ll be able to better understand what white nose does to a large bat population if it ever does get here.

Schorr will be back at the Rehder Ranch soon to take pictures of the bats’ wings and study their guano to get a better understanding of their diets.

“The baseline of what’s happening to these bats prior to them possibly being introduced to a disease is valuable,” Schorr said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to experience white nose here.”

 

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Media courtesy of Steamboat Pilot & Today

“The Wonder of Bats”

The wonder of bats: evolution, ecology, and conservation in the Yampa Valley

Content courtesy of Bud Werner Memorial Library

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Hear from conservation biologist Rob Schorr about little brown bats and the work Colorado Natural Heritage Program is doing at Yampa Valley Land Trust’s historic Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve and The Nature Conservancy’s historic Carpenter Ranch to study the bats and what we can do to conserve them.

About Rob Schorr
Rob Schorr is a zoologist and conservation biologist with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program at Colorado State University. He has studied the ecology of rare and lesser-known species in Colorado for 17 years. He has studied the hibernacula selection of Townsend’s big-eared bats, the roosting conditions for pallid bats, and the population ecology of little brown bats.

This program is presented by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Yampa Valley Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and the Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Photo courtesy Mical Hutson