Archive | March 2016

Welcome To Mexico, our latest World Tour location!

Welcome to Mexico! After our exciting hiatus for our British Science Week classifications target (which you helped us to hit comfortably), we’re now back on the road for the next stop on the Bat Detective World Tour. This time we’ve headed south, from our previous location in New York to tropical Mexico. Today we’ve uploaded a new set of data collected in 2008 during audio surveys in several locations on the Yucatán Peninsula, so head across to the Bat Detective site now to begin listening and classifying bat calls.

These data were recorded by a team that included Bat Detective’s founder Prof. Kate Jones, and include surveys around the city of Merida, the capital of Yucatán, as well as the Mayan historical sites Edzná and Calakmul, both of which are located in the jungle and are areas of special archaeological as well as biological interest.

Mexico is a remarkable country in which to search for bats. It has among the highest bat species diversity found anywhere in the world, as well as some of the world’s most unusual, beautiful and bizarre bat species. Some of our favourites are the spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum), the largest carnivorous bat in the world; the fish-eating bat Myotis vivesi, which hunts by using its exceptionally large feet to snatch marine fish and crustaceans from the sea; and the banana bat (Musonycteris harrisoni), whose extremely long snout and tongue are ideal adaptations for feeding on nectar from tropical flowers – and lend it its alternative name of trumpet-nosed bat. Other Mexican nectar-eating bats are famous as important pollinators of agave plants – vital for making tequila.

Locations on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, where Bat Detective audio data were collected

Locations in Mexico, where Bat Detective audio data were collected

Another of the country’s best-known bats is the Mexican free-tailed bat (pictured below) which is widespread throughout the Americas and famed for roosting in colossal cave colonies of up to several million individuals. Because of its abundance and visibility, it is fairly well studied; for example one 2015 study, published in the journal Science, found that this species has the remarkable ability to produce interference vocalisations to ‘jam’ rival bats’ echolocation sonar, potentially enabling individuals to improve their own hunting success.

In southern Mexico, as in other tropical regions of the world, bats are even harder to survey than in temperate regions – tropical forests are noisy places, filled with inhabitants occupying their own sonic niches and working to be heard above and around each other. Developing automated bat detector softwares to pick out bat calls from this dense acoustic hubbub, and to then identify those calls to the level of species or species group, requires a lot of labelled input data to train our algorithms.

But it’s worth the exploration, since many of the calls you’ll encounter in tropical Mexico are quite unlike our earlier data from temperate regions such as Europe and New York. So if you’re unsure, use the guide underneath the main classify window to help you figure out what sounds you’re hearing. And as ever, if you have any challenges working out whether a call is a bat or not, just click through to discuss it on the Talk section of the site with us and other citizen scientists. These are some of our favourite recordings to be uploaded to Bat Detective, and we hope you’ll enjoy listening and classifying them too.


Mexican free-tailed bats (photo via Wikimedia Commons)


British Science Week: we did it!


Yesterday was the final day of British Science Week – and we’re now very happy to report that with your amazing help we sailed past our target of 100,000 new classifications over the course of the week. We reached the target on Friday night (to much excitement), and then classifications continued to climb over the weekend – reaching a total of over 110,000! The Bat Detective team would like to extend a huge thank you to all the citizen scientists who participated and contributed their time and energy over the course of the week – your efforts are much appreciated and will make a real difference to our research.

Keep an eye on the Bat Detective blog, Twitter and Facebook during the coming months, and we’ll keep you updated about how our research is going, and explain how your classifications during British Science Week are helping to improve our automated bat detection algorithms for bat population monitoring.

We’d also like to extend our thanks to everyone at British Science Week and the Zooniverse team, as well as everyone who’s been involved in the last week’s bat-themed events, including the Grant Museum, In The Dark Radio, Bat Conservation Trust and all the speakers at the Museum’s bat-themed lunchtime talks.

After that exciting week’s diversion, the Bat Detective team are now preparing to resume our World Tour where we left off – next stop Mexico! We’re preparing to upload some new Mexican data to the Bat Detective site so stay tuned over the next couple of days – hopefully you’ll be keen to continue helping us in our search for bats.


British Science Week and Bat Detective: get involved!


British Science Week 2016 begins this Friday! This year’s citizen science theme is “all things bat-related”, and if you’ve been following us on social media you might have noticed that we’re excited to be one of the week’s main citizen science partners. With the help of both our fantastic current community of citizen scientists and what we hope will be many new recruits, we’ve set ourselves the goal of reaching 100,000 new classifications over the course of British Science Week.

So from Friday 11th March to Sunday 20th March we’re asking for your assistance in helping us to hit our target, by listening for for bats, insects and other sounds on Bat Detective. An extra 100,000 classifications will give us a fantastic boost in useable data for our bat detection algorithms, and will be a great step towards our goal of producing new software for bat population monitoring. We’ll have a counter on the Bat Detective site throughout the week, counting up the number of classifications we’ve managed so far and reminding us of how far we’ve yet to go. So please do get involved during the week and help us reach our goal — your efforts are very much appreciated and are invaluable to our research. To get involved, head to the Bat Detective website at any time and click “Get Searching”.

In addition to aiming for this classification target, we’ve also got a week of special bat-related events planned in collaboration with British Science Week and the Grant Museum of Zoology.

These will be taking place throughout next week at the Grant Museum on Gower Street, London, just around the corner from where the Bat Detective team are based at UCL. Throughout the week, from Saturday 12th to Saturday 19th March, the Museum will be hosting a pop-up Bat Detective stand where people can participate, classify calls and help us reach our target. The week’s events will also include lunchtime talks from researchers from Bat Detective and the Bat Conservation Trust, a special immersive audio evening exploring bat echolocation, and a family bat-fun day on Saturday 19th. There’s lots of information at the Grant Museum homepage, which you can find here.

The full set of special events runs as follows. So if you’re in London, come along, get involved and say hello to us — members of the Bat Detective team will be attending or speaking at many of the events. We look forward to seeing you there. And to hear about our progress during British Science Week and keep updated with Bat Detective news, you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday 14th March, 1:30pm–2:30pm
Bats at Lunchtime: The London Soundscape (talk)

A talk exploring how scientists at UCL are working to understand the health of London’s biodiversity through listening to its soundscape, including listening to bat calls.

Tuesday 15th March, 1:30pm–2:30pm
Bats at Lunchtime: On Dark Nights (talk)

A talk by researchers from the Bat Conservation Trust, discussing how street lights and other sources of urban light affect the nocturnal lives of bats.

Tuesday 15th March, 7pm—9pm
Bats: In The Dark 

Join In the Dark Radio for an evening of stories told through sound (like a cinema, but without the pictures) at the Grant Museum of Zoology during British Science Week. Enjoy the Museum after hours and listen to hand-picked audio inspired by Bat Detective, an audio visual citizen science project that asks people to identify bat calls. Discover the strange calls of these creatures of the night and find out more about these amazing flying mammals at this exploration of echolocation. This event is ticketed — book a place here.

Wednesday 16th March, 1:30pm–2:30pm
Bats at Lunchtime: Bat Detective (talk)

A talk from members of the Bat Detective team. Learn more about the ideas and science behind the Bat Detective citizen science project, and how the contributions of citizen scientists are helping us to develop tools to reliably identify bat calls.

Thursday 17th March, 1:30pm–2:30pm
Bats at Lunchtime: Bats In The Woods (talk)

A talk by researchers from the Bat Conservation Trust. Woodlands are excellent foraging and roosting areas for bats — learn about efforts to protect these important habitats.

Saturday 19th March, 1pm—5pm
The Brilliance of Bats family day

Bats are taking over the Grant Museum for a mini festival celebrating the brilliance of these flying mammals. Join the Museum for an afternoon of bat-related fun, try batty crafts with finger puppets and origami, take a closer look at some of specimens, hear from scientists investigating bats here in London and discover more about the work of the Bat Conservation Trust. This event is free so there is no need to book, just drop in from 1pm to 5pm.