Shedding Light On The Secret Lives of Microbats in Perth

A collage of microbat images, both flying and close-ups

It is common to see bats flying around streetlights on most nights – Their dark silhouette and mid-air antics. They are so fast, they are often hard to identify. Come to think of it, if we knew they were bats we would fly inside just as quickly!

Our fear of bats is quite irrational. It stems from how bats are depicted as monsters in popular culture and folklore. Their dramatic features with fanged teeth and unusually large ears, don’t help their case. In fact, it is these features that have inspired countless stories of bloodsucking vampires and their legions, and one very horrific tale of Count Dracula who lurks in the dark to stalk and prey upon his unsuspecting victims.

In truth, very little is known of our winged insect-eating critters. They are shy and inconspicuous. They are nocturnal creatures, who spend most of their active time hunting for insects and foraging food. And their curious habits remain shielded by the copious cover of the night when they operate and their ability to quickly disperse at the first sign of intrusion.

We do, however, know that they are an indispensable part of our environment. They are insectivores that help curb the spread of agricultural pests. And they contribute immensely to biodiversity.

Here in this blog, we shed light on the secret lives of microbats in Perth. Their habits and habitats. And what we must do to protect the threatened creatures.

 

Flying Mammals

Bats make up almost one-quarter of all known mammal species in the world. There are two varieties of bats – the megabat, also known as the fruit bat, and the microbat.

  • Megabats can be large and weigh up to a kilo. They have large wingspans of over a metre.
  • Microbats, on the other hand, are tiny. Some microbats weigh a mere 3gms and can fit through small gaps that are 5mm wide. The larger microbats can weigh up to 150gms and have wingspans of 25cms.

Scientists believe that the two varieties of bat evolved separately and regard them as distinctly different groups.

Microbats give birth to one pup per year, or sometimes twins. The babies are born during spring or summer, when days are warm with ample sunlight and when there is a good supply of food. They are born with their eyes closed, but within a short span of 6-8 weeks, they develop into fully grown adults that can fly and feed independently.

 

Echolocation On

Microbats are extremely adept flyers and can remain airborne for hours at a time. They use echolocation to navigate and hunt in the dark. Bats emit high-frequency sound waves that bounce off objects. By reading the returning waves they are able to tell what lies in their path. The microbats can locate flying insects and detect obstacles in their way with great accuracy using this method.

The waves that bounce back to the microbat tell it a lot about the object – how far it is, its texture, its shape, its size and if it is stationary or moving.

Many bats have special features to help them echolocate. Some have very long ears for hearing. Others have a growth on their nose, called a nose leaf, which focusses sound.

The Myotis microbat that lives near waterways has been recorded catching over 1200 flies in under 1 hour.

 

Gleaning Off

Microbats use this technique of “gleaning off” to catch insects that are not flying.

Bats do this by flying slowly, hanging on branches or even hovering closely. The microbats listen for tell-tale sounds of movements that their targets make like the motion of bugs on the ground or as insects shuffle along branches. They use a combination of echolocation and instinct to zero in on their prey. Then they strike and pluck the insects off the leaves, branches or ground, wherever they may be. In a clean hit.

The Golden-tipped microbat uses this technique to glean off spiders, swooping them straight out of their webs.

 

Torpor Mode

Microbats go into a state of torpor, which is very similar to hibernation, to conserve energy on days when food is scarce. Torpor can only be used temporarily for a few hours or days at a time.

The microbats mostly eat insects. One Australian species, called the ghost bat, is also known to eat small birds, frogs, lizards and other smaller bats.

 

City Living

During daylight hours microbats are known to spend their time inside hollows of tree trunks or branches. The clearing away of trees is creating a major lack of habitat for our vulnerable critters.

In such conditions, microbats will find shelter in manmade structures such as inside mineshafts, tunnels, buildings, under bridges, inside rooftops and in your gardens.

Usually, microbats are extremely fussy while choosing their roosts. You can help microbats by installing safely designed and comfortable bat boxes.

Clear away debris or branches from their flight path. Remove barbed wires from around your property. Ensure that the bat box you install is placed high and in direct sunlight – the best position is facing East in direct sun half-day and shade in the other half. Inspect the box regularly. And, report feral bee infestation immediately.

The Yellow-bellied Sheathtail microbat has an echolocation call that people with sharp ears can hear – a metallic sounding tick tick tick.

 

Bat Haven At The Wetlands Centre

We, The Wetlands Centre Cockburn, are located in the heart of the Beeliar Regional Park, surrounded by abundant natural beauty. Here we have been working at rehabilitating & conserving our wetlands and educating our community on wetland concerns for the last 25 years.

It is our dream to create safe habitats for all our wildlife, including our microbats. Together with bat expert and specialist Joe Tonga, we have installed a number of well-designed bat boxes towards this endeavour. Our bat boxes showcase healthy bat roosts that are thriving!

Our bat stalk night for children is an adventurous outdoor activity, where we learn about bats through real-life encounters. Children love flashing their torchlights and being out in the bush, and it is, of course, all under guided supervision. We also conduct the bat stalk night for adults with nibbles – cheese and drink – and deep conversation.

Ask us about our bat programs. Take a look at our many bat boxes. And learn more about these beautiful wetland creatures – the microbats!

This article includes insights from GoBatty.com.au, a blog run by Joe Tonga of Natsync Environmental, our local bat expert.

5 Fun Ways You Can Help Your Wetlands With Citizen Science

People in a wetland catchment involved in a citizen science project

Nothing compares to the joy of giving! It is immense. And it is this shared joy and community spirit that are helping us rehabilitate and conserve our vulnerable wetlands.

For, rehabilitating the wetlands is a complex project with many moving parts. Its success relies on the contribution of our volunteers, tireless efforts of wetland staff and vigilance and attention of the active community. We are also fortunate to have many landcare owners and special interest groups that look out for and assist with wetland activity. These people are our heroes!

If you’ve felt like getting involved and contributing, our “Citizen Science” projects are a great place to start. You can work independently on your own initiative, with clear guidance and help from us anytime you need. The activities are interesting and you can see the final build up as collaborators from across the community come forth with their contributions. And finally, the results are made available and published for everyone to see. It is a truly enriching experience.

Here are 5 exciting projects that are currently happening. If you are keen about making a difference and getting involved, we’ve got all the information you need. So, let’s get started!

 

1.    Wildlife Sighting

What is involved: Record your lucky wildlife sightings. This activity involves keeping a lookout for wildlife and their movement through the wetlands and bush.

Our freshwater turtles are predominantly shy creatures that only venture outside their wetland sanctuary during special periods. They are on the move now (from September until January), searching for nesting sites to lay eggs. And soon in June, hatchlings will emerge to make their way back to the wetlands.  Our bobtails, quendas and myriad other endangered and/or sensitive wetland creatures too follow a similar pattern.

What you can do:

  1. Visit ClimateWatch.org.au/mobile and download the app that lets you record your wildlife sightings.
  2. Whenever you encounter a wild animal, take the time to record your wildlife sighting on the app. Ensure that you maintain a safe distance at all times.
  3. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

2.    Installing Frog Ponds

What is involved: Creating a natural setting pond ecosystem within your gardens and/or backyards especially catering to the native frog species. This activity involves setting up a beautiful pond at a suitable place at home that attracts the frogs.

Frog pond in a home garden

Frogs are incredible creatures with well-camouflaged dappled and textured skins, that gleam green, black or brown. And sometimes with vivid patterns to ward off predators. These fragile creatures are seriously endangered and their numbers are dwindling. By installing a frog pond, we are encouraging a growth in their numbers, and in turn, helping our wetland biodiversity.

What you can do:

  1. Download this document from South Australian EPA with information about this activity and how to install a frog pond. Also, refer to SERCUL’s Gardens for Frogs in Perth Brochure that provides information about frogs and frog ponds specific to Perth.
  2. Monitor and maintain the frog pond regularly.
  3. Visit FrogID.net.au to get the FrogID app. Install and use the app to monitor and report frog calls in your pond and around your locality.
  4. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

3.    Nest box Monitoring

What is involved: Install and monitor nest boxes for bats and other wildlife. This activity involves the installation and monitoring of nest boxes.

Nest boxes with easy Do-It-Yourself instructions are available to be installed at home or in parks around your home. Ensure that you take permission from your local council before proceeding. There is a high risk of feral bees invading and occupying nest boxes. So, ensure that you check for and report feral bee infestation immediately. Check for damage and weathering of boxes regularly. Also, check for animal health whenever, and to the extent possible, without disturbing the inhabiting species.

What you can do:

  1. Purchase and install the nestbox in an appropriate area. Get permission from your local council before commencing.
  2. Ensure you do it right by purchasing nest boxes that are expertly designed to inhibit infestation by feral bees, which can be very dangerous.
  3. Monitor for wildlife – bats, phascogales or possums. It is recommended that you check at least twice a year during January/February and June.
  4. For information about bat boxes, visit GoBatty.com.au and get in touch with local bat expert, Joe Tonga, who has extensive experience building and installing bat boxes.
  5. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

4.    Water Monitoring

What is involved: Monitoring the waterbodies – sea or freshwater. This activity involves uploading images of a water source to an app and regularly monitoring it for changes.

‘Eye on Water’, as the project is called, enables people to upload photographs of a target water source to an app. CSIRO has launched an app specifically for this purpose. The app then allows you to match the image using a colour chart and visually determine the quality of water.

The images are subsequently added to a global database that will support scientists in monitoring Australian waters for activity such as algal blooms, nutrient explosion, sediment and salinity levels and seasonal changes.

What you can do:

  1. Download and install the free CSIRO ‘Eye on Water’ app on your mobile phone.
  2. Choose a water body to monitor. While you are free to choose any type of water body, we encourage you to choose a wetland. Record your findings using the app.
  3. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

5.    Shorebird Monitoring

What is involved: Participating in this program involves going bird watching to collect information about shorebird movements and habitats. Help strengthen the case for shorebird protection.

Father and son bird watching around the wetlands

This shorebird program aims to raise awareness about the incredible birds, their habitats and movements. Continued monitoring of shorebird populations is essential to implement best practices.

What you can do:

  1. Go amateur birdwatching. There is no need for professional equipment or gear.
  2. Record the location of the birds. For birds around the wetlands, you can submit your sighting information using collection forms at our centre. Also, you can record any of your bird sightings using the Birdata app from this link.
  3. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

Come, get #WildAboutWetlands

There is a plethora of other activities, and if you are interested, we encourage you to visit your local wetlands centre and get involved today!

Kids wading into the wetlands to collect feathers for a citizen science project
Kids collecting feathers for the Australian ‘Bird Map’ Citizen Science Project at the Beeliar Wetlands

There are several ongoing projects at any given time and you may find something that piques your interest. For example, the Australia-wide Citizen Science project – “Feather Map of Australia” which completed in August 2018, involved wearing protective/waterproof gear and wading into wetland catchments to retrieve bird feathers and studying them. Another annual initiative – “Wild Pollinator Count” is about to begin and involves tracking and monitoring bees and insect pollinators and helping wildlife enthusiasts research and help in their conservation.

When you decide to participate, don’t forget to send us a picture of your project. We’ll be waiting!