Miniopterus on the Move
Migration occurs when animals undertake seasonal movements from one place to another. Many different animals undertake migrations, including different mammals, fish, birds and even insects. But did you know that bats also migrate?
Studying bats are often quite difficult, for the obvious reason that they are small, speedy flyers that only come out at night. Our bat of interest, the Natal Long-fingered bat (Miniopterus natalensis) is listed as a known insect-eating, migratory cave-dwelling bat, yet almost nothing is known about their migratory behaviour, with the last known migration study conducted in 1986.
Traditional tracking studies utilise GPS trackers fixed to animals, either as collars (e.g. carnivores), backpacks (e.g. birds) or glued (e.g. Sea turtles). Scientists generally recommend the weight of the tracker not exceed 5% of the total body weight of the animal being tracked. This means that a bat weighing 10 grams should not carry a tracker heavier than 0.5 grams. Whilst these types of technologies are rapidly advancing, they are still too heavy, and have a variety of other limitations. These include expensive costs, having to retrieve the tracker to download the data and recharge the battery. With a population of 300,000 bats, the chance of recapturing your tagged bat is pretty slim! How then can we track bats?
Enter the Miniopterus on the Move project in collaboration with AfricanBats NPC, aimed at tracking South Africa’s Natal Long-fingered Bat. We’ll track bats by tagging our bats with microchips, also known as Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags. These small little tags are the size of a grain of rice (8 mm) and can be injected under the skin of a bat painlessly. They are also relatively cheap, each tag costing only R 27 (about $2). Each PIT tag has a 100% unique identification number associated with it. We can then use an antenna chord reader system to keep track of each microchipped bat. This state-of-the-art tracking equipment works just like the barcode scanner at your local grocery store, logging each item as it is scanned and adding them to a database. In this case, instead of scanning that packet of crisps and ice cream for guilty late-night snacking, we’ll be scanning bats! The antenna chord reader can be deployed at various cave sites and will log which tagged bats fly past as they exit or enter the cave. This starts to tell us where bats go and which caves they use.
The information we gather from this study will help scientists to understand how the Natal Long-fingered bats move through the landscape. It will also help us to create conservation policies and management plans for cave-dwelling bats, something that does not yet exist. And it’s pretty cool research!
In order to achieve our goals, we need your help! Please consider donating towards our project. Our equipment needs include:
PIT tag pre-loaded tray: $ 245 per tray of 100 tags – pre-loaded tags in syringes for injection into study specimens. Our aim is to tag 1500 bats in our first year.
Antenna chord system: $ 3300 – portable PIT reader system, consists of portable enclosure, reader, J-box, cord antenna and DC power cable. To be deployed at various sites for detection of marked bats
MK65 Tag Implanter: $ 40 – For use with the pre-loaded syringes to inject tags
Data logger board: $ 386 – stores real-time received data from stationary readers on an external USB flash drive. Used when readers are deployed overnight or long-term
Any funds we receive from you will greatly contribute the success of our project. For project updates, follow Miniopterus on the Move on Facebook: @miniopsonthemove