This August, the OKC Zoo and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) teamed up to perform bat inventories in the Cimarron Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in northwest Oklahoma. ODWC conducts annual inventories to determine which bat species are using the area and to study population health. Bats are often viewed by humans as pests, but they actually provide a number of benefits known as ecosystem services to their habitats and people . Many types of bats consume insects, reducing the need for pesticides and the rate of mosquito born disease transmission. Other bat species consume fruit and nectar, and thus play an important role in pollination and seed dispersal. Plus, bat excrement (known as guano) makes a fantastic natural fertilizer.
The Cimarron Hills WMA is a rolling prairie that covers 3,770 acres along the Cimarron River. The river and several small creeks and ponds scattered across the landscape make great locations for collecting bat samples. We spent the mornings searching these areas to find what looked like would be the best pathways to find wild bats.
The best bat pathways included areas that are next to water, because of the higher amount of bugs that would be in these areas, as well as places that have a funneling topography such as between trees or bluffs. These areas accompanied by the sunsets made for some very dramatic views.
Our team spent the hours before each sunset setting up mist nets that would go directly in the potential paths of hungry bats. Along with the mist nets, our teams also set up bat acoustic and infrared equipment as well as chairs for the hours spent watching the nets.
For the locations that we chose, our team was able to capture and release six Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasilensis) and two evening bats (Nycticeius humeralis). In addition to the two species caught in the mist nets, 10 other bat species were detected via acoustic data collected.
The nocturnal barn at the Oklahoma Trails exhibit in the Oklahoma City Zoo is home to a colony of short-tailed bats.
-Jay-T Parrish, information technology analyst