Citizen scientists record rare bat via artificial intelligence

A Kuhl's pipestrelle bat, a species that rarely visits the UK, was detected during a citizen science project recording bats in West Sussex.

The automatic bat detector set up in a garden. /Credit: Linda Smith

A bat detector set up in a private garden in West Sussex recently caught the audio of the social calls of a Kuhl’s pipestrelle bat.

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The species is native to the Mediterranean and is rarely recorded in the UK. Its echolocation calls are very similar to the Nathusius’ pipistrelle, however its social calls are very different and are diagnostic.

The bat detector logged over 50 audio recordings across three nights containing these social calls, which were flagged as something special and noteworthy when the recordings were uploaded to the BTO’s Acoustic Pipeline. The Acoustic Pipeline automatically identified the calls as Kuhl’s pipestrelle bat and as unusual for that location.

“We started using the bat detector four years ago, leaving it overnight in the gardens of Society members and their friends and have been amazed by the number of bat records at every garden,” say Ken and Linda Smith, co-ordinators of the Chichester Bat Recording Project for Chichester Natural History Society.

“Coming across this rare bat is very exciting and shows how much more there is to learn about these fascinating animals.”

Kuhl’s pipistrelle bat. /Credit: Stazione Teriologica Piemontese
Kuhl’s pipistrelle bat. /Credit: Stazione Teriologica Piemontese

Kuhl’s pipestrelle is regarded as a Mediterranean species, but could be undergoing a range expansion.

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“I am really excited by this finding. It is thought that the range of Kuhl’s pipistrelle is expanding northwards, so it is interesting to speculate whether this represents a vagrant or an establishing population,” Dr Stuart Newson, lead scientist on bat monitoring at the BTO.