SC Bat Watch!

Brazilian free-tailed bats. Photo by Mary Bunch

Most likely you've observed bats flying in warm weather over a body of water, a field, or even a road. Have you ever been curious about where those bats spend the daytime hours? Now you can help bat biologists with SC Department of Natural Resources find and count bats emerging from their daytime roost! Female bats of some species form maternity colonies in manmade or natural structures to raise their pups, and can include bat boxes, old houses or barns, tree cavities, or even old mines.

What is it?

SC Bat Watch is a citizen science project in South Carolina that monitors bat roost sites. Bat Watch involves counting bats emerging from a maternity roost twice during the summer. SCDNR needs your help to find and monitor these roosts!

Why?

Bats are a challenging group to study because they are nocturnal, can move great distances, and because their small size allows them to roost in places humans can't always access. This has led to a lack of basic information about many bat species. Recently, bats in North America have been hit with White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is a fungal disease that has caused the deaths of more than 6 million bats since it was first discovered in 2006. By increasing the number of colony counts in the state, this project will help biologists get a broader picture of the impact WNS is having in SC.

There are 14 species of bats found in SC. Eleven of them are considered species of greatest conservation need, and 7 of these roost in colonies. Three SC species regularly utilize bat boxes, and several others are known to use man-made structures for their maternity colonies. By helping monitor roosting bats, you will be collecting valuable information on these at-risk species.

Who?

Anyone can participate! If you know of a maternity colony of bats and are willing to go out at least twice during the summer to count them as they emerge, you can participate. Since most bat colonies are on private land, we rely on land owners and volunteers to report colonies and conduct emergence counts.

When?

The Bat Watch project offers 2 levels of involvement:

May 15 – June 15 is considered pre-volancy – meaning the pups are not yet flying.

July 1-30 is considered post-volancy – meaning pups are flying and will be included in the emergence count.

Emergence counts should be conducted when the temperature is above 60°F.

How?

Download the Bat Watch instructions, data sheets, and bat ID guide.

Please submit all data by September 1 of the same year. Email a picture or scan of the data sheets to BatWatch@dnr.sc.gov OR send them via mail to Jennifer Kindel, SCDNR, 124 Wildlife Drive, Union SC 29379.

We are providing a Bat Watch Training in June 2019 at Sunrift Adventures, 1 Center Street, Travelers Rest, SC. Stay tuned for date and time!

If you want to share the info on this project with others, download the SC Bat Watch summary.

Important: Bats are a vital part of our natural ecosystem, servicing as a natural pest controller and pollinator. Look and learn about these wonderful animals from a distance -- Never touch a bat! In the United States, cases of human rabies is extremely rare, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually (CDC, 2017). In the last 10 years, South Carolina contributed less than 2% of all national rabid cases in animals. Within this same time frame, bats were reported to be the 4th most likely source of rabies within our state (8% total cases) after racoons, skunks and foxes. If you find a fresh (not decomposed) dead bat, please contact Jennifer Kindel (864-419-0739, Kindelj@dnr.sc.gov) immediately. If you are concerned about potential rabies exposure, please contact the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Do you know of an existing bat colony?

Yes - Great! To use that colony to participate in Bat Watch, print out the data sheets and get ready for your count. If you can't commit to more than one count per year, simply report your bat box/roost online at SCDNR.

No - Consider putting up a bat box to provide a home for bats in your neighborhood. Bat Conservation International (BCI) offers plans for building your own bat box, links to businesses that offer bat boxes that have met the standards of BCI's Bat Approved Certification Program, as well as helpful tips for where to place your bat box. Also, consider checking with your local state park – they may already have a bat box and might be willing to let you conduct an emergence count.

Ready to practice?

Jon Gillespie has kindly provided a video of Brazilian free-tailed bats emerging from boxes at Sunrift Adventures below. How many bats can you count? In the field, each person would be assigned one box, so count one box at a time. Beware, the middle one is a challenge! The total tally is located at the very bottom of this page to check your numbers. Pro tip: use a tally counter or free tally counter app to help you keep track.

Additional Resources

Bat boxes at Table Rock State Park. Photo by Mary Bunch

Tally from Sunrift video: Left box: 4, Middle box: 30, Right box: 1