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The tiny southern bent-wing bat has a big job but numbers are declining

Michael Smith, May 7, 2017 5:50PM Herald Sun

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​​THE tiny southern bent-wing bat is vital to Victoria’s ​ecology*​ but numbers of the little creatures are in decline.

The bats live in caves ​in the south west and south east of South Australia and help safeguard Victoria’s $11 billion agriculture* industry from pests.

Each night during the warmer months, thousands of bats eat tonnes of insects, keeping nature in balance and helping farmers.

In the 19​6​0s, ​there were 200,000 bats but today there are less ​than 50,000.

Federal and state governments, farmers and a number of health and conservation* ​agencies ​are very concerned that no one ​knows why they are disappearing.

Emmi ​van Harten​, 27, of Castlemaine, was raised on a bush block outside Bendigo in central Victoria. Her mum instilled in her a love of nature but she knew little of bats.

“She was always pointing things out to me, an echidna, a particular bird,” Emmi said.

“I developed a strong sense of place in the bush.”

Emmi holding a bat. Picture: Tony Gough
media_cameraEmmi holding a bat. Picture: Tony Gough

In 2015, Australian microbar expert Dr Lindy Lumsden spoke at Emmi’s local Landcare group and showed everyone the little animals.

“It was fascinating. They’re so tiny, so fragile,” Emmi said.

The ​following month, the Australian Government released a plan to help recover populations of the critically endangered bat, including funding for research. Emmi jumped at the chance and started a PhD* on the topic at La Trobe University, Bendigo.

After just 18 months, Emmi has made great progress through the use of microchip* technology — used to register cats and dogs — and large-scale radio wave antennas* to detect the bats’ movements.

​“Previously, researchers ​had to catch hundreds of bats and use handheld readers to record them,” said South Australian Museum officer and Ms ​van Harten’s supervisor Terry Reardon.

“Now, with Emmi’s project, we’re able to monitor large numbers of bats remotely for months on end​ without disturbing them.”

​Emmi and her team ​have discovered that the bats are ​​moving 70km in five hours between a major breeding cave at Naracoorte, just inside the South Australian border, and a non-breeding cave at Glencoe.

Bats at the Naracoorte Caves. Picture: Steve Bourne
media_cameraBats at the Naracoorte Caves. Picture: Steve Bourne

Emmi hopes that her work will help people understand more about the bats and their important role.

“I hope in time we’re able to change people’s perceptions of bats,” she said.

For for information visit their website: ausbats.org.au.

​​BAT FACTS

Bats can see but use sound waves to detect where things are, called echo-locating. Their echo-locating sound is so loud that they have to switch off their ears to avoid deafening themselves. We can’t hear it as it is out of our hearing range but if we could it would be louder than a jack hammer.

They eat up to half their body weight in insects each night.

They have to tense their ​feet ​muscles to let go of things. This enables them to sleep hanging upside down without falling to the ground.

A baby bat is called a pup.

GLOSSARY

​ecology: the land and natural systems

agriculture: farming

conservation: saving

PhD: the top academic achievement. People with a PhD are called Dr

microchip: metal computer chip containing information

antennas: metal rod used to pick up information

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Activity 1. Population decline

Read or listen to the article then answer these questions.

What is the main purpose of this article?

What is Emmi van Harten doing about this problem?

Why did she decide to research this problem?

What has she found out about these bats already?

How might this information help solve the problem?

If you were trying to solve this problem, what other information could be helpful to you?

Extension:

If the southern bent-wing bat population continues to decline.

What will the flow on effect be for agriculture, farmers and the general population?

Time: allow about 30 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking.

Activity 2. Information report

Write an information report about the southern bent-winged bat.

Use information from the article and from other sources to assist you.

Include information under the following subheadings – classification, habitat, diet, physical appearance, population size, threats and their facts.

If possible include a labelled diagram of the bat.

Extension: Bat population mathematics

According to figures in the article*, approximately how much smaller is the current population of bats than the 1960 population?

What percentage of the 1960 population is left today?

Represent this as a fraction.

In 1960 if each bat ate 1000 insects each night – how many insects would be eaten each night?

Today if each bat ate 1000 insects – how many insects would be eaten each night?

If bats move 70kms in 5 hours, how far can they travel in one hour?

*Use 50,000 as the current population to complete these problems

Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Science, Mathematics

VCOP ACTIVITY

(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers, Punctuation)


Word a Minute

Write the word ‘Bat’ in the middle of a piece of paper. Then create a mind map with 5 subheadings: hear, see, taste, smell and touch. Picture yourself suddenly surrounded by bats. What would you see? What would you hear? Make it a challenge by giving yourself only 1 minute to come up with a list of describing words related to the 5 senses:

Eg: Sight – dark, frightening

Extension: Play the game with a partner. Compete against one another to see who can think of the most words in one minute.

Time: Approx. 15 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Big Write, VCOP
Activity provided by Andrell Education www.andrelleducation.com.au

EXTRA RESOURCES

BABY BANDICOOTS FIGHT EXTINCTION

LIGHTS OUT FOR EARTH HOUR

MEET THE LION CUBS, NAMED BY YOU

WILD LIFE IN FOCUS

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC COMPETITION

Extra Reading in animals