Jack the dog and researchers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game look for crannies where bats hibernate in the winter. (Courtesy photo | Tory Rhoads)

Jack the dog and researchers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game look for crannies where bats hibernate in the winter. (Courtesy photo | Tory Rhoads)

A nose for searching: Scientists use dog to find bats

Studying the places bats lair will help us count them.

Finding bats is no simple task even in an urban setting. But to find them in the wilderness? You need a special set of eyes for that.

Or a nose.

“In 2007, Dr. Carol Chambers assessed the ability of scent detection dogs to locate bats that were roosting in trees and snags in the summer in northern Arizona,” said Tory Rhoads, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Detection dogs are also frequently used to locate bat carcasses at wind turbine facilities.”

Rhoads is part of a larger project monitoring bat populations and behavior in Alaska, keeping a close eye on the spread of white-nose syndrome among the population of little brown bats, Myotis lucifugus. Little brown bats are one of six species of bats living in Juneau, Rhoads said.

White-nose syndrome is a fungal infection that only affects hibernating bats, Rhoads said, beginning on the East Coast in North America. It’s thought to originate in Europe or Asia, Rhoads said, and while it doesn’t affect every species, it kills between 95% and 100% of those it does affect.

Jack the dog and researchers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game look for crannies where bats hibernate in the winter. (Courtesy photo | Tory Rhoads)

Jack the dog and researchers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game look for crannies where bats hibernate in the winter. (Courtesy photo | Tory Rhoads)

To monitor the bats, they needed to locate the caves and crannies where the small mammals hibernate through the winter, called hibernacula. That proved difficult until they came up with an innovative solution: Jack the dog.

[Going to bat for Juneau’s winged mammals]

“The main issue we faced locating bat hibernacula before Jack was simply trying to figure out which outcrops bats were using and, even more complicated, which holes at those outcrops they were using,” Rhoads said.

Bats on the East Coast tend to hibernate in large groups, exclusively in caves and mines, Rhoads said. On the West Coast and Alaska, they tend to be more widely dispersed and not clustered as tightly, Rhoads said. But finding them without some help is extremely difficult.

“Given the limitations of trail cameras (limited field of view, distance needed to trigger, sensitivity) trying to locate which hole(s) and which outcrops bats are using is very much like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack,” Rhoads said in an email.

Jack was trained using a variety of stimuli, including guano, scent swabs, live bat fur and dead bats. Jack and his handler, Collette Yee, helped Rhoads and others locate hibernacula along the Mansfield Peninsula ridge on Admiralty Island and in the ridges near Fish Creek in north Douglas.

The project will continue this summer, with more help from Jack help locate and study Juneau’s bat population.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

Rep. Sara Hannan (left) and Rep. Andi Story, both Juneau Democrats, talk during a break in floor debate Sunday, May 12, at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau’s legislative delegation reflects on lots of small items with big impacts passed during session

Public radio for remote communities, merit scholarships, fishing loans among lower-profile successes

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his vision for Alaska’s energy future at the Connecting the Arctic conference held in Anchorage on Monday. Next to him is Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, invited to Anchorage to speak at this week’s Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy examining energy bills passed by Alaska Legislature

Expresses optimism about carbon storage bill, pondering next steps on royalty relief that failed.

(Michael Penn/ Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, May 19, 2024

For Sunday, May 19 Assault At 8:20 p.m. on Sunday, 32-year-old John… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, May 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Fay Herold, a delegate at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention, expresses concerns about a proposed change to the party’s platform on Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Alaska Democrats gather in Juneau to make party plans for national convention in Chicago

Peltola, national party chairman among speakers; delegates get advice from protester at 1968 event.

A lamb-decorated headstone lays half hidden in a cemetery section in Douglas on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Shaky deals from past haunt efforts to preserve Douglas cemeteries today

As volunteers struggle to clear brush at historic sites, city leaders say they have limited options.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, May 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read