Ticha Padgett-Stewart - June 2018

I have been in Australia for around three weeks now and field work started almost as soon as I got here! Field work for my project is split into two separate sampling events, under roost sampling and actually catching bats. Under-roost sampling is the process of collecting urine and fecal samples from plastic sheets laid out beneath the bats roost. These samples are non-specific, meaning they can give us information about bats in the roost as a community, but we can't link any sample to a certain bat. They are much easier and less invasive samples to collect however, and much larger quantities of samples can be gathered in this way. Under-roost fecal samples can be used to check for the presence of endoparasites like protozoans, helminths and others. The urine collected can be tested for the shedding of Hendra virus. These together can help us identify populations with greater presence of Hendra virus and allow variables surrounding those more infected populations, such as the parasite load, to be evaluated for potential correlation.

The catching portion of field work is more intensive and is where we actually capture bats using finely meshed mist nets placed in the bats flyways. After catching, we collect blood samples, urine and fecal samples and a myriad of other samples from each bat specifically. This makes it easier to see what variables exactly are influencing a specific bat's susceptibility to infection with Hendra virus. Flying fox fruit bats are large enough that it is necessary to anesthetize the bats for sampling, so neither the bat or the researchers get hurt. While the bat is anesthetized, I also perform a tape test, which can be used to test for mites and pinworms eggs and do a visual examination of the bat for other ectoparasites. Thus far, all of the ectoparasites we have seen have been bat flies. Bat flies are wingless flies that have evolved with bats and are often even species specific. Aside from bat flies, analyzing the rest of my samples will require a microscope and currently I am still in the field without access to a lab. But depending on what I find when I do analyze my samples, I may have to make some changes to the sampling protocols or refocus on different aspects of my project.

So far we have had really long days usually starting at 4 am or earlier in order to beat the bats back to the roost, but it has been such a great experience! Flying foxes are adorable and the work we are doing has really interesting implications for how urbanization may potentially impact bat health and disease transmission. I’m really looking forward to analyzing my samples to see what other parasites these bats might be carrying.

Image 1: Holding a flying fox fruit bat pre-release. The bats are kept in a pillowcase to keep their wings contained and to keep the bats calm

Image 2: Black flying fox fruit bat (Pteropus alecto), one of the four species of Pteropus in Australia, which are among the largest bats in the world

Image 3: Evening fly out of bats from a roost in New South Wales. Thousands of flying foxes may roost together at a time

Image 4: Extension of the poles used for setting up the mist nets. The poles are 20 meters tall and a pulley system is used to bring the nets up and down to catch/untangle bats

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