The South East is home to an amazing number and types of bats and yet most people don’t realise just how many are flying around our properties at night.

In Australia (and the South East) nearly a quarter of all our mammal species are bats, with over 90 in Australia.  Over the summer and autumn of 2013/14, Nature Glenelg Trust has been running a Community Bat Monitoring project in the Mid to Upper South East to share information about the local nightlife with local landholders.

This project is funded by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resource’s State Natural Resources Management Program Community Grants 2013-2014.

Bats are our only flying mammals, with the wings comprising of a modified hand structure.  This is why they have the Latin family name, Chiroptera – which literally means hand-wing.  Bats are a really important part of a healthy ecosystem. Each night across our region microbats consume well over a tonne of insects and fruit bats help to spread seed and pollinate flowers in native vegetation.  The Australasian Bat Society has a great page full of amazing facts and dispelled myths here.

© Steve Bourne

In the South East region we have two fruit bats and fourteen different microbats.  The two fruit bats are only occasional visitors, with their primary habitats occurring in other parts of Australia, primarily Adelaide.  However,when they are here they are comparatively noisy, forming squabbling ‘camps’, so people might remember seeing them at the Naracoorte Hospital a few years back.

Microbats are all insectivorous and primarily use echolocation (sonar) to find their prey.  Microbats, as their name suggests are tiny weighing between 4 and 50 grams, which is approximately the size of a small mouse. Generally they go unnoticed as they are quiet visitors, only occasionally seen roosting in outdoor sheds, roof eves, woodpiles or flying under street lights.   However, there is one species, the White-striped Freetail (Mastiff) Bat that most people can regularly hear, particularly if they know what to listen for!  The Friends of Naracoorte Caves have produced a fantastic booklet called Bats of the Limestone Coast, which provides lots of information about all the different species we have in the South East and their habitat requirements.  Copies are available from the Naracoorte Caves (08 8762 2340) or the Natural Resources South East office in Mount Gambier (08 8735 1135).

The bat monitoring project has been working with landholders to survey their properties for microbats using remote audio-recording devices called Anabats.  Each bat species calls at a slightly different frequency and with different inflections, so it is possible to identify what species are at the property just by recording and analysing their calls.  The Anabats come on automatically each night and record the high frequency calls, then using computer programs we are able look at the calls and identify which species of bat is present.

In the first stages of the project – up until mid April 2014, eighteen different properties were surveyed in the Upper South East over multiple nights and with between 2 – 3 Anabats per property, we have achieved 124 Anabat survey nights.  The results have been fantastic with each property recording between 5 and ten different types of microbats!  We have been putting the Anabats in different habitats on the properties, ranging from intact native vegetation to open paddocks, this has shown that open paddocks with isolated paddock trees are important habitat too.

To help confirm the species that are being recorded on the Anabats, NGT is also undertaking trapping at key locations within the project area.  During the trapping events we caught eight different species, which included the Southern Freetail Bats, Lesser Long-eared Bats,  Gould’s Wattled Bat, Chocolate Wattled Bat, Western Broad-nose Bat, Little Forest Bat, Southern Forest Bat and Large Forest Bat.

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