A Rare Florida Bat Needs Your Help

Dec 11, 2018

Two organizations have teamed up to save the Florida Bonneted Bat, one of the rarest and most endangered bats in the world.

The bat has seen its natural habitat decimated over the years and is facing a rapid decline to its population. Bat Conservation International (BCI) and Zoo Miami are working on a project to help the species from threats due to sea-level rise and the region's urban development. They are designing special bat houses around South Florida and studying the bat's population in order to help preserve its lifespan.

Frank Ridgley is the head of Zoo Miami's Conservation & Research Department and a veterinarian. Mylea Bayless is the Senior Director of Bat Conservation International. They joined Sundial to talk about the project and how Floridians can take part.

This conversation has been edited lightly for clarification. 

WLRN: Where is the best place for [these bats] to live?

RIDGLEY: Miami has been transformed -- what was once a pine forest that stretched from North Miami Beach all the way down to Florida City... now, it's an urban landscape. These bats have adapted, which many endangered species do not when their habitat is kind of wiped out, but these bats are living in artificial structures --mainly people's homes.

Part of this project is to convince South Floridians to almost adopt the Bonneted Bat as their own. Why is that?

BAYLESS: This is what I think is one of the funnest parts of this project. South Floridians have an opportunity to really own their relationship with this bat. There are ways that we can listen for the bats acoustically using special devices. Part of this project is to try and develop a core group of people who would be interested in walking surveys through their communities, listening for bats with a bat detector that attaches to your iPhone or Android and they have a signature call that you can detect them. This is a great way we think that people who live in these communities can help us find new [homes] and help us identify ways that we can conserve this species in their own backyard.

Do you think that something like that could eventually happen here Frank?

RIDGLEY: People need to appreciate that these bats are out here in Miami working every night for us. We don't think about it. We don't even realize it, but they're eating all these flying insects. There's actually been studies that show that bats contribute billions each year to offsetting pesticide use for agriculture. A lot of Floridians don't like flying insects riding around and these bats are out there cleaning our skies every night. They do provide a benefit to every resident here and that's something to look at a little differently.

What are the biggest threats right now? What are the greatest risks to the bat that's damaging perhaps their opportunity to grow?

RIDGLEY: Well there's long term risk like sea-level rise and more habitat loss. But the day to day risks here is if they're living in people's roofs anyone who goes and tries to get their roof replaced here in Miami could accidentally harm or kill a federally endangered species. The other thing is termite tenting. You could have a colony of these bats in your home. You would never know it. They don't make any noise, they don't smell and you get your house termite tented and you could kill off a whole colony of this very rare species.

So if in case you happen to have them in your home and you don't want them there...What do you tell people?

RIDGLEY: We developed with the University of Florida a hand out or guide for South Floridians to see if you might have bats in your house or around. And if you do find that you have bats you can contact a licensed pest control company that should be aware of the species in the area.

Also on today's show:

During the 2018 midterm elections Sundial partnered with Joshua Johnson, the host of NPR’s program 1A, for an extended conversation with the Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum. Today, Johnson joined Sundial to talk about what happened in Florida after the 2018 midterms.