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Lincoln Park Zoo's 'Bat Signal' Surveys Chicagoans for Species Data

 A bat at Lincoln Park Zoo.
A bat at Lincoln Park Zoo.
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Lincoln Park Zoo/Julia Kilgour

LINCOLN PARK — Ghosts and ghouls may be spooking Chicagoans as Oct. 31 approaches, but animal scientists at Lincoln Park Zoo hope city residents won't be shying away from bats.

The zoo launched on Tuesday a citywide appeal for "bat signals," or resident-submitted information about bats in Chicagoland.

Conservationists at the zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI) have been studying the city's bat populations since the summer, but zoo staff planned their appeal for public contributions to kick off "around Halloween, when most people have bats on the brain," zoo spokeswoman Tiffany Ruddle said.

There are eight known bat species in the state of Illinois, but, according to Ruddle, researchers have found evidence of only four in the Chicago area: big brown bats, eastern red bats, silver-haired bats and hoary bats.

That data was collected from two transects — linear areas of study fitted with sonic detectors that record and sort bat calls by species — stretching from the zoo west to Batavia and north to Lincolnshire, Ruddle said.

But scientists at the UWI are desperate for a bat colony in the city to study, and hope public reports of bat sightings and echolocation calls will help them find one. Members of the public are encouraged to share bat photos, stories, and tips with the zoo by emailing batsignal@lpzoo.org.

Conservationists are especially concerned about white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has decimated bat populations in the eastern U.S., according to a release from the zoo. White nose syndrome has not yet been detected in Illinois, but the disease is spreading west and has already killed an estimated 6 million bats.

“Bats are vulnerable, and the more we know about them, the better,” Urban Wildlife Research Coordinator Julia Kilgour said in a statement. “That’s why we are asking the public to be our eyes and ears as we all work to understand these mysterious and often invisible creatures.”