If you've ever been curious about bats, and particularly in their night feeding habits, then the town of Marana and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have an opportunity for you.
The town and F&WS are looking for volunteers to participate in a bat and hummingbird feeder study, what biologist Scott Richardson calls "a citizen science project."
The project started in 2007, when Marana and the city of Tucson were developing habitat conservation plans that would bring private individuals and companies into compliance with the revised federal Endangered Species Act.
"The lesser long-nosed bat is covered under Marana's plan, as well as under the plans developed by Tucson and Pima County," Richardson said. "Bats feed in the fall on agave century plants and because of the bloom failures in 2006, we saw a lot more bats in town using hummingbird feeders. We thought it would be an interesting way to track the bats."
Lesser long-nosed bats are migratory and spend winters in Mexico, returning to Arizona as early as the second week of April. Pregnant females congregate at maternity roosts, give birth and raise their young throughout the summer months, Richardson noted. Males form separate, smaller colonies.
The core of the bat's diet in early summer is nectar and pollen from the saguaro and organ pipe cactus flowers. Later in the summer, bats move up in elevation and feed on agave. But bats have regularly been observed using hummingbird feeders near residential homes.
Along with the local governments, the Fish and Wildlife Service has had the participation of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum and Bat Conservation International.
"Marana took the reins last year on administering the project," Richardson said, "and it prepares all the reports and runs the website, while we continue to oversee the program."
Janine Spencer, environmental projects coordinator for Marana's environmental engineering department, said a great deal of good information comes from studying where the bats are feeding.
"In the past two years, we've found that bats will move as much as 60 kilometers (about 46 miles) a night, which is an amazing distance to forage in an evening," Spencer said.
Last year, biologists also were able to identify two previously unknown night roosts, which bats use to rest while foraging. One was on the south face of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the other on the west face of the Rincon Mountains.
During the day, bats usually roost in deep, dark spots like caves and old mines, with roosts containing anywhere from hundreds to thousands of bats.
Spencer said she'd like to see more volunteers from within the Marana town limits. Currently, there are two.
"We have a number of volunteers who are near the town limits, in unincorporated Pima County," she noted, "but we'd like to have more volunteers from inside the town to be able to use that data in our plan."
Richardson noted it's easy to volunteer.
"You'll have to monitor your feeder two or three times a week, beginning in July and continuing until the bats leave, usually the end of September or early October,' he said. "You'll also have to measure the level of fluid in the feeder just before dark and again when you rise in the morning. Then you'll input your data on the Marana website or print hard copies of the data sheets and return them at the end of the season."
Richardson said the information gathered from the study is being used to identify conservation strategies for the bats in the Marana, Pima County and Tucson area.
"By gathering data on where bats are feeding, when they arrive and leave the Tucson basin, and tracking a few bats with radio transmitters, we gain a better understanding of their foraging habitat, how they travel from their roosts to foraging sites, and the locations of their roosts," Richardson said.