The air was warm and heavy and the sun was just starting to shine as we prepared to head into the heart of Big Cypress National Preserve in southern Florida. We were armed with machetes, bug spray,
snake-proof gaiters and specialized equipment—including acoustic detectors, microphones, passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and a “peeper” camera on a telescoping pole. Our mode of transportation: a swamp buggy, which looks like a cross between a bus and an ATV. It would take us close to our destination—Annette’s Pond—but we would have to hike through the swamp the rest of the way. What we hoped to find on this journey was the elusive and endangered Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus).
This part of Big Cypress National Preserve is the only location where the species is regularly recorded using sensitive acoustic detection equipment. This led us to wonder if there may be a roost near the pond. On this day, we sought to install detectors to record bat activity at the pond for the next week. But we also were searching every tree cavity we could find around the pond, as we hoped to find a group of Florida bonneted bats roosting.
Southern Florida has dry and wet seasons. During the winter, the dry season, the pond retains deep water, unlike the knee-deep water we hiked through to reach it. That may be why the Florida bonneted bat has been recorded there year round. That’s also why alligators are so common in the area. As we reached the pond, we looked out and saw dozens and dozens of eyes looking back at us. People are a rare visitor to the site, and the alligators were curious. Many swam closer to us. Air bubbles of submerged alligators were noticeable within just a few feet of us. But they were just curious. These alligators primarily eat wading shore birds. We are not food to them, so they didn’t bother us.
After installing the two acoustic detectors, we started looking for tree cavities. We found several around the edge of the pond. The “peeper” camera is a specialized tool that biologists use to search cavities for nesting red-cockaded woodpeckers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service borrowed one for our trip. We installed it on a telescoping pole, which allowed us to reach cavities 50 feet above our heads. The camera goes inside a cavity and transmits the image to a receiving viewscreen—essentially a small television set—that we held in a backpack. Cavity after cavity, we searched. But we didn’t find a single Florida bonneted bat. After hours in alligator-infested waters, we hiked back to our swamp buggy and headed out.
Although we left the swamp empty-handed, BCI is still searching. Today, we only know of four roosts for this rare bat. But we are working with partners around southern Florida to find more. We hope that by finding more roosts, we’ll better understand the movement, foraging, and reproductive habits of this species.
We need this information to enact successful conservation strategies. You can help us by supporting BCI’s endangered species work in the U.S. And if you live in Florida, you have the chance to help an endemic, endangered bat right in your backyard. Together, we can bring the Florida bonneted bat back from the brink.
BCI Director of Imperiled Species