One quarter of the mammals in Australia are microbats They are rarely seen. Small creatures about the size of one’s thumb fly about in the night sky eating insects and not bothering people. Many of them roust in tree hollows which humans often cut down, not wanting a hollowed tree to fall on their heads. In 2000 a bat box project was started in Wison’s reserve. Eight bat boxes were installed high up in trees. Too high for foxes or juveniles to reach. For four and a half years the boxes were checked quarterly, but only Huntsman spiders were found inside.
Finally in February, 2005 one Gould’s Wattled Bat was found by Robert Bender. He told the bat, “Stay and invite your friends.” The bat followed his advice, the next month four bats were found.
I got to accompany Robert Bender on a bat box check. Now in 2021 there are 22 bat boxes in Wilson Reserve. The boxes need to be checked for ant invasions. The bats get along fine with the spiders, but they won’t nest in a box full of ants. Robert put an aluminum ladder on the luggage rack on top of his car and drove to the reserve. He pulled the ladder off the roof and carried it into the bush. It was not a small ladder, but he carried it easily. I was a bit uneasy about the ladder, but there is good phone reception in the Reserve in case I had to call 000 (Australia’s 911).
It this box he only finds two Grey huntsman spiders. Huntsman spiders are big and scary looking but they don’t bite people.
He had better luck in the next bat box. A young Chocolate Wattled Bat was found. He had small rounded ears, and wattles or skin flaps at the corners of his mouth. He was very small, about the size of one’s thumb. They have very soft fur, but I wasn’t allowed to touch him in case he had a disease which I has not been vaccinated for. Rob has been vaccinated.
Two boxes had been invaded by ants. All that needed to be done was to open the top up for a few hours and the ants will decide that without a roof it is not a nice house and will move on.
The ladder got moved and I held my breath again. Once again up, up up, to inspect another box. This box had one bat hanging upside down. The body modifications that allow them to fly means they can’t stand on their feet. They have a double membrane that extends from their body flanks along their arm bones and elongated finger bones that, when the fingers are stretched out, forms an aerofoil and allows the bat to fly.
They have claws on their feet that cling to things so they hang upside down easily. They must be upright to give birth or poop, then they hang from their thumbs. That’s probably less comfortable than being upside down, but they didn’t tell me so I’m not sure.
Most of the bats were Gould’s Wattle Bats. They look a bit different and have a much larger penis. This one has a numbered wrist-band so it can be identified when captured multiple times.
One of the last boxes had a hole in the side instead of a hole at the bottom that was for the sugar gliders. Sugar gliders are not bats but a type of possum. They were the cutest things I’d ever seen.