Citizen Science

Be a Bat Detective

October 28, 2014

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A common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus). Photo by Flickr user Steven Robinson through a Creative Commons license.

What Is Bat Detective?

Just in time for Halloween: Where can you hear a sound that most people never hear, teach computers a lesson, and improve scientific data on vulnerable bat populations?

Try the citizen science project Bat Detective!

Bat Detective has a challenge for you. They have collected recordings from iBats, a volunteer bat monitoring program, made with special ultrasonic detectors and slowed those recordings so that the bats are audible to the human ear.

They need you to classify the recordings and report any bat calls so that they can improve computerized systems for monitoring bat populations.

Why Is It Important?

Because bat populations are a good indicator of environmental health.

Bats are vulnerable to human impacts that might be affecting other aspects of an ecosystem in more subtle ways. For instance, they are sensitive to climate change. And their slow rate of reproduction (1 pup/year) means that they recover slowly from disturbances.

But bats do more than indicate ecosystem health; they eat some pesky mosquitoes and they are important pollinators. Recently, they have become famous for their role in pollinating agave, the primary ingredient in tequila.

Bats often live in large colonies, which makes populations susceptible to diseases. White-nose syndrome has taken a great toll on North American bats.

So, bats are important. But why can’t computers classify their calls?

Current computer programs can recognize bat calls when there is no other noise, but can’t pick out bat calls out when there is background noise. By contrast, Bat Detective has found that humans are “absolutely fantastic” at finding bat calls among the din.

Bat Detective’s main goal is not to answer a specific research question about bats, but to learn from citizen science classifications and build a better computer program for recognizing bat calls.

They will then make that program available to scientists everywhere so that it can be used to answer a variety of questions and to assist in bat conservation around the world.

How Do You Get Involved?

The project is housed on Zooniverse along with other citizen science projects like Old Weather and Condor Watch, so you can sign in to track your progress or get started classifying sounds.

A brief tutorial will help you to differentiate bat sounds from other noises and to tell bats’ social calls, searching calls, and feeding calls apart. It will also guide you through the process of marking calls correctly.

If you run into trouble, you can visit the discussion forum.

Go to the Bat Detective blog for cool information about bats and updates on the data.

Try it, be a bat detective!


Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org or leave a comment below with a link to make a recommendation for Citizen Science Tuesday.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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7 comments

  1. Hi I live in Chatham VA and I have over 70 brown bats that live in my roof of my apart! I have had one in my apartment that got in through a vent. I would love to help if I can. thanks

  2. My Mother has a neighbor that has a bats that keep reoccupying their home. They don’t have the money to get them properly removed and keep killing them and trying to fix the problem. I would say they usually have at least 500 or more living in their chimney. Is there someone that I can get in contact with so that they be relocated.

  3. Bats are amazing creatures. One trip to Carlsbad Caverns with make you a believer. I will see if there are any programs to be a ‘Bat Detective’ here in Pensacola. Keep up the good work..