Young scientist spotlights bats

A 12-year-old "batman" has confirmed Cambridge has its own urban population of rare bats - a question experts have long been in the dark over.

Cambridge Middle School student Joe Dillon followed his own version of a bat signal - handheld and automatic bat detectors - as part of a school science project to discover habitat of the rare long-tailed bat, a move that turned heads within the scientific community.

Joe's project, which will be highlighted at this month's 2014 NIWA Waikato Science & Technology Fair, began using handheld bat detectors. The Conservation Department then lent him automatic detectors, and his father, Chris, helped him place them in strategic locations in and around Cambridge.

Joe captured 16,000 recordings in all. Bats were thought to have been heard in about 300.

He described that first "magic" moment he heard bats: "Listening back to that very first recording, which turned out to be a long-tailed bat, was just amazing."

Like all good tales of discovery, it was a case of the bats not being where Joe thought they might be.

Hamilton-based bat research for Project Echo found the small mammals live in Hamilton near the Waikato River, so Joe initially thought the bats might also be recorded near the river in Cambridge but it wasn't so. Instead, after months of work, he found them in Luck At Last Rd near Maungatautari, at Te Miro, near the Karapiro Gully, and triumphantly at Lake Te Ko Utu in the middle of town.

Cambridge ecologist Chris Smuts-Kennedy researched bats during a career with the Conservation Department and said long-tailed bats have been found in rural Waikato from Taupiri down to Te Kuiti and Tokoroa and from Pirongia across to Te Aroha but they were declining throughout their range

Bats were long suspected to be in Cambridge but Joe had nailed the answer in difficult winter conditions when bats were less active.

"Joe Dillon's very useful work has now shown that they are using the very heart of Cambridge - probably being drawn in by Lake Te Ko Utu where they can feed on aquatic insects, and by the very large gum trees whose loose flaking bark and perhaps cavities provide roost sites."

"These bats have very specific habitat requirements, and we should rejoice that Cambridge can still meet their needs to some extent at least."

The NIWA Waikato Science & Technology Fair is at Hamilton Gardens Pavilion, August 22, 23.

Waikato Times