Nightlife in the Sky
Written by: Breanna Gosh
As the sun is setting and the sky is darkening, we are all usually occupied with something. Whether we are winding down after a long day, brushing our teeth, or eating a midnight snack, we fail to acknowledge the beauty of the night when we are locked up in our homes. This summer I decided to push back my nightly routine and enjoy nightlife in the great outdoors.
Woodland Dunes has hosted various outdoor events and activities this summer that took place at night. I have had the privilege of participating in a star party where I was able to look through a powerful telescope at the moon and Saturn, and I was able to get a glimpse into the nightlife in the sky through bat monitoring, which I was able to do three times this summer. Bat monitoring is done with a special handheld machine and tracking software, which tracks the location of the bats. It also detects the echolocation calls the bats produce as they fly. This allows the DNR to locate exactly where, what species and what time each specific bat was encountered. It is really fascinating to be the person holding the bat monitor when a bat flies overhead because each species of bat makes a different sound and pattern on the tracker. The pattern that appears on the tracker shows the different frequencies of the calls and how it raises and lowers throughout the call. Monitoring walks have to be at least an hour long and can only be started after sunset.
Participating in the bat walks sparked my curiosity about bats. Bats are very interesting creatures and they are actually rather mysterious. Bats are mammals, not birds, and they are the only mammal that can truly fly. Also contrary to popular belief, bats are not rodents. Bats are members of the mammalian order Chiroptera, meaning hand-wing. Believe it or not, bats are our friends, not our enemies. Bats are actually very helpful when it comes to pest control, and a single bat can eat up to 1,000 insects per night. Farmers that live in areas of high bat populations in the southwestern United States save hundreds of millions of dollars each year on pesticides because of bats. Another interesting fact about bats is their longevity. Most bats live to be 10-20 years old, which is very long for such a small animal!
There are eight species of bats that have been recorded in Wisconsin. One specific species of bat, the Indiana bat, has only been recorded once in Wisconsin and is federally endangered. The other seven species of bats that have been recorded in Wisconsin all are at risk of becoming endangered because of the prevalence of white-nose syndrome and the low reproduction rates of bats. White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus found in caves, which means bats that hibernate in caves are at the highest risk for contracting this deadly disease. Low reproductive rates of bats are also to blame for the lowering bat population. Most species of bats can only produce one baby, called a “pup” per year, although there are some species that can have up to four.
Bats are just one specific creature that you could watch for if you decide to delay your nightly routine and spend some time outdoors. It is definitely worth it!
Note: A second bat survey, done on the West Twin River later in summer, recorded six or seven bat species. This is a remarkable total, and suggests that the area of and around Woodland Dunes is home to potentially every species found in Wisconsin! Many bats were recorded over the river that night.