20 June 2013
There are many instances in which the services of the South Australian Museum's resident “bat man” are called upon.
Technical Officer Terry Reardon has been studying the nocturnal creatures for many years, in habitats from local parklands to the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
When heading out of the Science Centre in the “batmobile”, Mr Reardon takes with him sophisticated technology like ultrasonic bat detectors, thermal cameras and marine radar to research bats.
“Studying bats takes you to some wonderful places! We still know so little about many basic aspects of bat biology and still don't really know how many species there are in Australasia,” he said. “Resolving the number of species is a main focus of my work. For this we use genetic techniques as well as traditional methods such as measuring skulls and teeth. Soon I will describe three new species of bat from Australia.”
Mr Reardon also looks after an audio library of bat echolocation calls.
“The way researchers study bats in the wild has changed significantly over time,” he said. “We used to rely on capturing bats with mist-nets and specially designed traps. Now we use bat detectors which record the echolocation call of bats. We can now identify bats in flight from their calls. But this requires capturing, identifying and recording calls to build a reference call library. This is an ongoing project, especially as bat detector technology changes.”
Mr Reardon plans to travel to far-north Queensland with a group of scientists to record more bat calls and add to a rapidly-growing library of sounds.
He is keenly interested in bat conservation and has been working on monitoring population sizes of threatened bat species using thermal cameras and missile tracking software. He recently received a grant to develop the use of marine radars to measure flight heights of threatened bat species which are at risk from blade-strike at wind farms. He is collaborating with DSTO and RAAF in developing this method for mitigating potential collision of planes with birds and bats.
He is regularly consulted on issues such as bats roosting in houses and also the recent arrival of flying-foxes in South Australia — and while some people were worried about diseases transmitted by bats, Mr Reardon said the chance of these animals spreading illnesses such as Hendra virus are very unlikely. He is currently working with an international team on the evolution of viruses in bats in Madagascar.
Mr Reardon developed his interest in bats when he was an avid cave-explorer and cave diver. “When I started, there were few people working on bats, but now there are many students and professionals involved with bat research. Perhaps part of the attraction is that they hold many mysteries — and that they are pretty cute!”