Photos: Night creatures, up close

Bats fascinate near Ken’s Lake

The hoary bat, named for the color of its fur, was the largest species caught during the night. A division biologist said it was the first time the team had caught one since they started checking the Ken’s Lake location years ago. Photo by Carter Pape

Moab locals recently got an opportunity to watch wildlife biologists catch, study and release local bats as part of an effort to keep tabs on the local bat population and its health.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources hosted about 15 guests at a bat-catching station near Ken’s Lake on Thursday, Aug. 8, as part of an outreach event that encouraged bat-curious locals to see the animals up close and in action, even with the opportunity to touch them if so desired.

Scott Gibson, a biologist of sensitive species for the division, emceed the event. He is a bat specialist for the southeastern Utah region and spends his time tracking the health of local populations of wildlife, including bats.

Gibson talked event attendees through the process of catching bats, which starts by hanging up light, mesh nets, where the bats are caught, before dusk. Division employees installed the net above a popular drinking hole for bats near Ken’s Lake, and soon after the sunlight faded for the night, the bats came out to drink.

The night started with two bats of the same species, Yuma myotis, getting caught in the netting. The trap is designed to minimize harm to the bats, and trained division employees had the task of carefully removing the entangled bats from the netting to be studied.

One by one, after transporting the small creatures in light fabric bags a short way up the hill from the creek, Gibson removed the bats to begin examining them, measuring their weight, determining their sex, identifying their species and making other notes as they catalogued their findings.

As he made these observations, he took questions from the audience about what bats eat, whether they like mosquitoes, what preys on bats, where bats go during the daytime, and other curiosities.

The answers, he said, are that they feed on bugs like beetles and moths, that they tend to stay away from mosquitoes because they are a low-energy source of nutrition, that they stay anywhere from caves to mines to trees, depending on the species. And yes, it hurts when larger bats bite.

Gibson handled many smaller bats that he said would try to bite him while he was handling them, and he put on heavy-duty gloves to handle the larger species in case they got more excited to bite their way out of his grip.

Gibson allowed some of the event attendees to touch the bats, to feel their soft fur, but ensured that people who did touch the bats washed their hands with isopropyl alcohol before and after to prevent the unlikely spread of disease like white-nose syndrome. All materials that were to touch multiple bats were also cleaned between observations.

Although the division staff said they would stay out until 1 a.m. to continue catching and observing bats, to ensure they got a large enough sample size, observers were not forced to stay that late, but many stayed for hours nonetheless to get a good long look at the mysterious creatures of the night.