Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists April meeting speaker

Technology can often be a mixed blessing, but for April’s Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists audience, it allowed club members to enjoy a visitor from further afield who to told us about bats and shared tales of the night sky. Technology was also part of the theme that Toby Thorne, Coordinator of the Native Bat Conservation Program at the Toronto Zoo, brought to us. Toby captured his first bat at the age of 11 and has been entranced by these small mammals ever since, an interest that now spans almost 20 years.

Here in Ontario, all our species are insect feeders and Toby focused on introducing us to our eight species of bats — those that migrate, like the Hoary and Silver-Haired Bats, and those that cluster together in roosts, like the Little Brown Myotis. We were reminded of the devastating losses of some of these latter species, as the ravages of the introduced White-Nose fungus have reduced populations of some species by more than 90%.

We joined Toby on a “bat’s ear tour” of the Rouge Valley Urban National Park, near Toronto, where researchers from the Zoo have followed bats helped, in part, by some remarkable advances in technology that have been developed even over the course of Toby’s career. We can now track individual bats, thanks to miniaturized transmitters, allowing us to understand where they go through the night and through the season. And we can listen in on the ultrasonic echolocation calls they use to help locate and feed on moths, flies, including mosquitoes, beetles and a variety of other insects plucked from the air. Those characteristic calls are sometimes enough to tell us which species are flying overhead.

So, when you are next cursing having to enter yet another password to access something on your smartphone or computer, think of how technology may be helping in our conservation efforts to protect bats and other animals.

Normally visitors are welcome at our Nature Talks and as guests on our outings. However, the field naturalists have had to restrict attendance to members only as we have no way to accept one-time payments from guests. Consider joining MVFN so that you can listen in on Nature Talks for the next year. Membership rates range from $20 for a single senior to $35 for a family.