Bat Trackers Researchers Study Creatures in Lake County Forests

Article excerpt

Byline: Abby Scalf Daily Herald Staff Writer

Debbie Scott and Carson Brown come to the forest only at night.

They fight mosquitoes; they set up large nets. Sometimes, they stand in water up to their necks to plant 30-foot-tall poles.

When all the equipment is put in place, they wait.

They wait to see bats.

While some movies create fear that bats will swoop down to bite, Scott and Brown spend the nights listening to the bats squeak and watching them fly overhead.

The two hope to help the Lake County Forest Preserve District learn for the first time what types of bat species live across the county.

The two Ohio University graduate students spent their summer on the project. They will be ending their project soon.

Scott, who describes bats as "cute," said this information can hopefully dispel the myths people have about bats.

Restoration ecologist Debbie Maurer said the Lake County Forest Preserve District has wanted to survey the bat population, but the high cost to buy equipment was a deterrent. A grant last year from an anonymous donor helped overcome that hurdle.

"We didn't want to do the survey without proper methods," she said. "The grant money made it possible to purchase the materials."

Forest preserve wildlife biologist Jennifer Filipiak, who wrote the bat study proposal, said the forest preserves are not managed for a single species. But the hope is to learn more about different species in their communities.

"We don't know a lot about bats in Lake County," she said.

After obtaining funding, the next issue was finding someone to identify the species. Stan Gehrt, a staff member at Ohio State University, who has conducted bat studies in Cook and McHenry counties, was asked if his students would do the research.

Scott first became intrigued by bats as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University.

"I thought, 'How can people not like these things? They are so cute,'" she said.

Scott said there are many negative myths about bats, however, most bats are beneficial to humans. A common misconception is all bats carry rabies. Actually, it's only 1 percent, she said.

"Most bats are like any animal. They go out and hunt insects," she said.

This is not the first time bats have been found in the forest preserves. Three years ago, staff found little brown bats roosting at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda. Since that discovery, forest preserve naturalist Mark Hurled has led a program inviting the public to visit the shelter and study the bats.

The shelter allows visitors to get close enough to observe the bats, but not to be intrusive, Maurer said.

Hoping to learn what species are found in Lake County and where, Scott and Brown began to survey 21 forest preserves in June and will continue through this month. …