Grand Canyon Bats Science Adventure
Arizona Raft Adventures teamed up with Bat Conservation International (BCI) for an 8-day motor adventure in August of 2013 to provide a truly unique Grand Canyon raft experience featuring Grand Canyon bats. Let’s face it, bats have a bad rap and few people like them. It could be the vampire thing, or maybe it’s rabies. Bad rap or not, bats make up an amazing percentage of mammalian species on the Earth and eat more than their own body weight in insects every night. Besides, they’re cute. Really cute.
Twelve guests along with AzRA guides Rob Elliott, Amanda Vigneau and Anthea Schick, and bat biologists Jason Corbett and Katie Gillis came together to share in their love of bats. Jason and Katie are as knowledgeable and passionate about bats as AzRA is about the Grand Canyon. Jason had procured all necessary permits to explore Grand Canyon bat lifestyles, including the ability to net Grand Canyon bats and also to investigate inside cave and abandoned mines.
Creating the perfect itinerary was a fun challenge. The group made four cave stops between miles 25 and 30, plus the abandoned mine a little ways up Havasu. Along the way, they tried to camp at the mouths of side canyons favorable for netting bats.
“What kind of side canyons are favorable for netting Grand Canyon bats?” Asked Rob.
“Ponded water,” says Jason. “They have to drink every night, especially the lactating moms.” The trip hit the jackpot at Blacktail Canyon as the back-most pool was full at roughly 6’ across and 12’ long. Bats drink on the fly, they prefer still water, and like most wildlife, they like their routines. They trust the pond at the end of Blacktail and the not-so-bright bats get caught up in the bottom of the net.
Then Jason and Katie would walk the Grand Canyon bats half way back to the mouth of the canyon and the rest of the guests would divide tasks between each other measuring their wingspan and ear size, determining whether their tail was connected to wing-skin or “free” (which all adds up to species identification), and looking at their “wrists” to determine whether the joint cartilage is opaque (adult) or translucent (juvenile). After they check out each bat, they provide trauma counseling and release them back to the night. They net three species of bats in Grand Canyon that night out of the six species they found during the trip.
Bat Fun Facts
Speaking of species, it’s fun to know that there are:
- approximately 1300 species of bats in the world, which is between 20 and 25% of all mammalian species
- 28 species of bats in Arizona, second only to Texas
- 20 species of Grand Canyon bats
Grand Canyon Bats – “This is one trip I will never forget.”
After the trip, Rob shared, “I no longer think of Grand Canyon bats as ugly, little beasts. In fact they are pretty darn cute. Imagine holding the tail of a 2 ounce mammal between your thumb and forefinger, looking at his little face. At first he just wants to bite your finger with his tiny little teeth. The smaller ones can’t even break the skin. Then he calms down, waiting for his fate while you measure his ears, his wing-span, and determine whether he is an adult or an adolescent. Then you look again at his little face … and he’s precious. You hold him up to the night air, arm outstretched, and release him. At first he’s not sure he is free to go, and then in the blink of an eye, he hurdles into the night—leaving you to wonder what he must be thinking, leaving you to wonder about the fate of a species and the fate of an entire family. This is one trip I will never forget.”
We hope BCI returns for another trip, so if you are batty about bats, join their membership and tell them you want to be on their next Grand Canyon raft adventure!
Written by Rob Elliott, former Owner of Arizona Raft Adventures, Grand Canyon guide for over 40 years and Trip Leader of the 2013 Bat Conservation International Grand Canyon rafting adventure.