Listening to the Skies
Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute expanded our wildlife surveys this year to include some rarely encountered nighttime friends: bats! Bats play an important role in North American ecosystems, helping control insect pests ranging from pesky mosquitoes to big, juicy moths.
Illinois is home to eight different bat species, found all across the state. Some, like the big brown bat, are commonly found in urban areas like Chicago. Others, like the evening bat and northern long-eared bat, are usually found in rural areas that are unaffected by human development. Our goal is to better understand which species can be found in the greater Chicago area as well as what makes some areas more suitable for certain bats.
To find out which bats are living where, we’ve added bat monitoring systems to our current biodiversity monitoring project, which spans from Lincoln Park Zoo to suburban areas up 40 miles away. These elegant systems record the echolocation calls of bats as they fly overhead. Bats are actually very noisy as they fly around, but the sounds they emit are too high pitched for humans to hear. Using ultrasonic microphones, we are able to detect these bats, and because each species has its own unique call signature, we can study the recordings afterward to see which species are found in which neighborhoods.
As cities expand and alter the natural habitat, animals have to adapt to the changing environment. By understanding which bat species are found around Chicago, we gain a better understanding of how different bat species are impacted by urbanization. In addition, with white-nose syndrome, a fatal fungal disease, sending bat populations around the country in decline, it’s more important than ever to know how our cities are impacting our nighttime friends.
Julia Kilgour, M.S., is a project coordinator in Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute. She's looking for your help to find large bat colonies in the area to study! Send your bat photos, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.