Five-year-old Izzy Herreid-Terrill was there and so was 12-year-old Alex Osborne.
There were also people in their 80s.
While their ages ranged widely, what they shared was a love of and a fascination with bats. Where they were was the Quarter Circle Bridge area inside Glacier National Park for the Park’s “Going Batty” field trip Wednesday night.
Biologists with Glacier Park, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service are studying bats in Glacier and Northwest Montana. Wednesday’s field trip was designed to teach participants about bats and some of the threats they face. They also got to see some of the bats that were captured in mist nets as dark closed in on McDonald Creek where it meets the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
Stacy Herreid-Terrill and Izzy made the long trip to Glacier from Dillon.
“My sister-in-law sent me the notice and Izzy just loves bats and other wildlife,” Stacy said. “So I took a half-day off from work so we could come.”
Osborne is also a wildlife lover, according to his dad, James. They live in Columbia Falls.
“He saw this and wanted to come, so whatever gets him away from the computer or phone is good,” James said.
Three wildlife biologists — Glacier National Park’s Lisa Bate, FWP’s Chris Hammond, and Lewis Young, retired from the Forest Service — led the program.
After explaining how the trapping program works and sharing bat facts, everyone got a look at the mist nets that were set and the bats that were caught.
Bate had Izzy and Alex help in recording information about each bat on a chart. The bats were identified, measured, checked to see if they were male or female, and if they were females whether they were nursing a pup, and if any of the bats had been injured.
“Tonight, the conditions are pretty good,” Bate explained. “It’s cloudy, there isn’t any wind and the temperatures are just right,” Bate said.
Bate said if the temperature is below 50 they won’t trap because bats will roost and not feed because insect activity drops to the point where it’s not worth the effort for them to hunt. Bats, similar to hummingbirds, expend a great deal of energy eating insects such as mosquitoes and they know to conserve their energy if conditions aren’t favorable.
“The process takes less than an hour and if we catch a female that is pregnant or lactating (nursing), we’ll let them go and not process them,” Bate said.
The mouth of McDonald Creek is a very good place to trap bats, Bate noted, because it offers water for bats to drink and it’s a prime location for mosquitoes and other insects, particularly as it becomes dark.
“We place the nets, but we don’t unravel them until we stop hearing the birds singing and we know they’ve roosted for the night,” Bate said. “Obviously, we don’t want to catch the birds, so we wait.”
Bats are very active after it becomes dark and Bate said the first thing they do is get a drink, then begin feeding.
Wednesday was a productive night for catching bats. More than a dozen were quickly netted and placed in white, cloth bags. Bate handled the bats with gloved hands as she measured them while Izzy and Alex noted the measurements and other pertinent information on the chart.
Participants weren’t allowed to handle the bats, but the biologists did because they have pre-exposure vaccinations that protect them in the event they’d be bitten by a rabid bat.
While rabid bats are a problem, Bate said less than 1 percent of Montana bats tested have rabies.
“It’s not something to take lightly because only one person that was bitten by a rabid bat and didn’t get the shots survived,” Bate said.
Fortunately, the United States is only averaging one to three human cases of rabies annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While participants couldn’t handle the flying mammals, they did get to see them up-close and it was clearly a treat for all the attendees.
White-nose syndrome is the biggest reason for bat research in Montana, Bate said.
The research began in 2010 when Glacier wildlife biologists received a grant from the Glacier National Park Conservancy to initiate a bat inventory and monitoring program at the park.
Glacier partnered with Waterton Lakes National Park to obtain the services of world-renowned bat biologist Cori Lausen. Lausen, who has worked with bats for nearly two decades, is an expert in all aspects of bat ecology and survey techniques.
The work continues as researchers strive to build baseline information about bat populations in Montana so if and when the disease does appear here, they will have a better idea of how it is affecting bat numbers.
“We don’t expect it will be a good result with fewer bats because they eat a tremendous amount of insects,” Bate said.
Bats are capable of eating hundreds or even thousands of insects, including mosquitoes, per night.
White-nose syndrome originated in France years ago and made it to the U.S. after cave explorers got it on their clothes and brought it here while exploring caves on the East Coast.
“It has killed 6 to 7 million bats in the U.S. and has been found in 34 U.S. states and seven Canadian provinces,” Young said. “It was recently found in California, but so far, it hasn’t been found in Montana.”
Bain credited the efforts of volunteers and the Glacier National Park Conservancy for biologists being able to perform their research.
“The Conservancy has been very generous and we have volunteers that help,” Bate said. “The equipment we use in our trapping can weigh a few hundred pounds and there are times we have to arrange for transportation by stock or by boat, so the efforts of everyone are really appreciated.”
For more information, go to Bat Conservation International at batcon.org.
Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.