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Individual Highlight

Bat wings offer promise as means of recognizing individuals

Photo of Snapshot : The ability to recognize individuals within an animal population is fundamental to conservation and management. Identifying individual bats is uniquely challenging for the scientists studying them. A Forest Service scientist and her partners demonstrated that bats’ wings have great potential as a means of recognizing individual bats.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Amelon, Sybill 
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1264


The field of animal biometrics (measure of unique physical and behavioral characteristics) has expanded to include recognition of individuals based upon various morphologies and phenotypic variations including pelage (hair) patterns, tail flukes, and whisker arrangement. Biometric systems use four biologic measurement criteria: universality, distinctiveness, permanence, and collectability. A Forest Service scientist at the agency’s Northern Research Station and her collaborators evaluated whether individual bats could be uniquely identified based upon the collagen–elastin bundles that are visible with gross examination of their wings. Researchers analyzed little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), northern long-eared bats (M. septentrionalis), big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus), and tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) to determine whether the wing prints from the bundle network would satisfy the biologic measurement criteria. Researchers evaluated 1,212 photographs from 230 individual bats comparing week zero photos with those taken at weeks three or six and were able to confirm identity of individuals over time. Two blinded evaluators (evaluators given unidentified bat wing pictures) were able to successfully match 170 individuals in hand to photographs taken at weeks zero, three, and six. This study suggests that bats can be re-identified successfully using photographs taken at previous times. While further evaluation of this methodology is needed, it has great potential as a standardized system that can be shared among bat conservationists.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • University of Missouri

Program Areas