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Georgia Explores World of Yellow Bats

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources have teamed up to take a closer look at northern yellow bats.

Very few yellow bats have been recorded in the state – all were from the extreme Coastal Plain – and little is known about Lasiurus intermedius here or in many other states in its range. One of Georgia’s 16 bat species, yellow bats are a high-priority species in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy that guides DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity.

Warnell student Laci Coleman is examining roosting habitats of this elusive species for her senior thesis. With the help of University of Georgia wildlife professor Steven Castleberry and Nongame Conservation Section biologist Trina Morris, Coleman developed a project to study yellow bats on Sapelo Island.

“When we first got to Sapelo, I was worried that we wouldn't catch many bats,” Coleman said. “Then I realized that catching bats wouldn't be the problem; catching yellow bats would be the hard part."

But success came early: Coleman captured a male northern yellow bat on the first night of trapping, one of 42 bats netted that night, most of them evening bats. A tiny radio transmitter was glued to the skin on the yellow bat’s back. The transmitter signal lasts about two weeks, which gave Laci and her crew time to track the bat to its roosts. The second night yielded two yellow bats, a male and a pregnant female.

DNR summer bat interns Beth Oxford and Brannon Knight are helping Coleman. The interns' first assignment: Spend three weeks on Sapelo trapping and tracking yellow bats. On their second day, they were mist netting until the early morning hours and tracking bats afterward. The first yellow bat captured was easily followed to a nearby clump of Spanish moss, its roost for the day.

Coleman and the interns later captured a fourth yellow bat and tracked the four to roosts across the island.

The information will help DNR’s Georgia Wildlife Resources Division make decisions about the management and conservation status of yellow bats. “So little is known about this species,” Morris said. “This project is critical to understanding the habitats needed for yellow bats in Georgia.”

Additional work trapping and recording calls of yellow bats and other species in the Coastal Plain will help determine how rare the yellow bat is in Georgia.

Learning more about bats is even more important with the growing threat of white-nose syndrome, a disease blamed for the death of more than 1 million bats. White-nose has not been documented in Georgia, though it has been confirmed as close as Tennessee.

“We don’t expect yellow bats to be impacted by (white-nose) since they are not cave-dwelling and are active year-round,” said Morris, who works with Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section.

Yet, better understanding the status and requirements of yellow bats is critical in the face of other threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation, according to Morris.


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