Thermal imaging reveals significantly smaller Brazilian free-tailed bat colonies than previously estimated

Betke, M., D. E. Hirsh, N. C. Makris, G. F. McCracken, M. Procopio, N. I. Hristov, S. Tang, A. Bagchi, J. D. Reichard, J. W. Horn, S. Crampton, C. J. Cleveland, and T. H. Kunz

Using data collected with thermal imaging technology, we found a major reduction in population estimates of colony size in the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) from 54 million, obtained in 1957 without this technology, to 4 million in 6 major cave colonies in the southwestern United States. The 1957 census was based on human visual observations of cave emergence flights that were subject to potentially high errors. The recent census was produced using an accurate, reproducible counting method and based on complete temporal records of colony emergences. Analysis of emergence flights from dusk through darkness also revealed patterns in group behavior that would be difficult to capture without thermal infrared technology. Flow patterns of bats during emergence flights exhibited characteristic single, double, or triple episodes, with the peak flow during the 1st episode. A consistent rhythmic pattern of flow episodes and pauses was revealed across colonies and was independent of emergence tempo.

Betke, M., D. E. Hirsh, N. C. Makris, G. F. McCracken, M. Procopio, N. I. Hristov, S. Tang, A. Bagchi, J. D. Reichard, J. W. Horn, S. Crampton, C. J. Cleveland, and T. H. Kunz. 2008. Thermal imaging reveals significantly smaller Brazilian free-tailed bat colonies than previously estimated. Journal of Mammalogy 89:18-24.