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Using sutures to attach miniature tracking tags to small bats for multimonth movement and behavioral studies

September 3, 2015

1. Determining the detailed movements of individual animals often requires them to carry tracking devices, but tracking broad-scale movement of small bats (< 30g) has been limited by transmitter technology and long-term attachment methods. This limitation inhibits our understanding of bat dispersal and migration, particularly in the context of emerging conservation issues like fatalities at wind turbines and diseases. 2. We tested a novel method of attaching lightweight global positioning system (GPS) tags and geolocating data loggers to small bats. We used monofilament, synthetic, absorbable sutures to secure GPS tags and data loggers to the skin of anesthetized big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) in Colorado and hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus) in California. 3. GPS tags and data loggers were sutured to 17 bats in this study. Three tagged bats were recaptured seven months after initial deployment, with tags still attached; none of these bats showed ill effects from the tag. No severe injuries were apparent upon recapture of 6 additional bats that carried tags up to 26 days after attachment, however one of the bats exhibited skin chafing. 4. Use of absorbable sutures to affix small tracking devices seems to be a safe, effective method for studying movements of bats over multiple months, although additional testing is warranted. This new attachment method has the potential to quickly advance our understanding of small bats, particularly as more-sophisticated miniature tracking devices (e.g., satellite tags) become available.