Listening In The Dark: How Citizen Scientists Are Intensively Researching Malta’s Bats

Malta's bat population has drastically declined over the years

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Did you know there are as many as 10 bat species in the Maltese Islands?

Not many people do. Despite Malta hardly having any mammals to call its own, research into the local bat population has been scattered and public awareness campaigns scant. At least so far.

Greenhouse Malta last month started an extensive research project called Akustika into the 10 resident Maltese bat species - including the Soprano, the Kuhl’s pipistrelle, and the Maghrebian mouse-eared bat.

Working under the supervision of professional scientists, over 50 people have volunteered as citizen scientists to collect unprecedented troves of data on the local bat population, including on their distribution, status and habitats.

This involves the use of mist nets, specialised equipment to capture bats while they are commuting. The captured bats are then sexed, measured, identified, checked for parasites, sampled and released unharmed.

Gaislers Long Eared Bat Nicholai Xuereb 2

Although there were recent claims in a popular Facebook forum that the use of these mist nets is illegal, they are all covered by ERA (Environment and Resources Authority) permits.

Greenhouse is also collaborating with Nature Trust Malta’s Wildlife Rescue Team in obtaining further information regarding bats brought in with injuries, dehydration or abandoned bat pups.

The Akustika project’s main aim is to raise public awareness on bats and to encourage the authorities to consider bat welfare in large-scale land development, including restoration works, a crucial goal seeing as all Maltese bat species suffered drastic declines in the 1990s. While some populations have stabilised in smaller numbers, some are still in decline and vulnerable.

Indeed, Greenhouse Malta has already sent data to the authorities about how bats have occupied an old townhouse in Santa Venera, which has been scheduled to be demolished and replaced by a block of apartments.

“Our knowledge regarding distribution, population size, and habitat requirements of bats are currently patchy and limited to research by individual researchers,” Akustika said. “When asked what the greatest threat to local bat species is, our researchers stated that it is lack of knowledge, caused by a lack of information based on standardised research outcomes.”

Researchers Left Right  Elena Portelli Daan Deukeukeleire Femke Batlseer Sarah Galea

“Akustika is designed to fill the knowledge gaps on local bat species in Malta and Gozo and set the first steps towards gaining a national overview of what bat species are present, their distribution and status in 2018 and 2019.”

If bat conservation sounds appealing to you, then Greenhouse will next month hold a number of training and citizen science opportunities for participants to learn more about bat ecology and the research methods used to study them.

Interested volunteers are encouraged to follow Greenhouse Malta’s Facebook page or send an email to [email protected]

READ NEXT: This Wildlife 'Operation' Is Taking Hundreds Of Maltese Students Around The World To Work With Endangered Animals


Written By

Tim Diacono

Tim Diacono tends to clam up when asked to describe himself. You can contact him on [email protected]