Bats are woefully understudied. Perhaps it is because they are not cute, or because they're nocturnal and we don't see them very often, or, as "citizen scientist" Danielle Gustafson says in a Bloomberg report on a new bat app, because they just don't have good PR in pop culture.
But there are some people who are really into bats, like Gustafson, who's on the board of Bat Conservation International and — full disclosure — my friend. My seven-year-old son is inexplicably crazy about bats, and Gustafson got him a subscription to the BCI magazine I call Bat Fancy but is really just called Bats.
Now, bats are an important part of the ecosystem and should be studied, but for whatever reasons — not enough scientists; scientists in general are under the gun — data collection on bats largely falls on "citizen scientists," people like Gustafson and the hobbyists she leads on evening bat walks. "Bats face a multitude of threats — habitat loss, wind turbines, and perhaps the greatest threat — misunderstanding and irrational fear. Bats are wonderful creatures, they need our help," says Gustafson.
A company called Wildlife Acoustics, which makes an app to help the amateur ornithologist identify bird songs, has developed a new app to help bat-lovers locate bats by changing the frequency of their echolocation so it's audible through an iPhone or Android.
Citizen scientists can use the app to help them locate bats, and Danielle and Bat Conservation International hope to soon create a public database for storing and collating the data collected on bat populations.
The app is free, but the hardware, at $US179 ($247), is a bit pricey for my son. Until then, we'll have to rely on Gustafson's bat app on the bat walks — just as soon as my son is allowed to stay up that late.