Angela "Angie" McIntire is a biologist and bat management coordinator with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. But she prefers the title “bat specialist.”
McIntire has been with the department since 2003, and has worked on and off with bats for more than 25 years. Bat work – which involves going in caves, surveying bats while they’re roosting, etc. – was some of the first work she got to do with the department. “Oh my gosh, this is much fun," she recalls thinking.
McIntire is from Columbus, Indiana, but has lived in Arizona for over 30 years. “When I was growing up in Indiana, I always loved wildlife and animals,” she says. She remembers carrying around her little Golden Guide to mammals she got on a trip out West, and she and her family would watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and stuff like that. “But I didn’t realize that I could actually have a job like those people,” she says.
She moved to Arizona after high school, started at Arizona State University, but didn’t know what she wanted to study. A wildlife conservation class caught her attention – “If anything it would be interesting to study” – and ended up getting a degree in it from ASU.
Now she’s a major source for living with bats in Arizona, and eager to share.
“There are bats all over the state,” Mctintire says. “We’re very diverse; we have 28 different species of bats.”
She says the West, and in particular the southwest, is the kind of hot spot for bats. She believes it’s due to diversity in habitats and topography, which yields higher diversity of wildlife in general, “and certainly bats." For instance, there are two nectar-feeding bats in southern Arizona, bats that pollinate saguaro cactus and agave, and others.
Despite a quarter-century of working with bats, McIntire still finds surprises in her job.
She often hears from the public, and even got a Facebook tip – “of all things” – on a nearby roost to check out. A local man was searching for amphibians and reptiles, and discovered surprising amounts of guano in the north Valley.
McIntire and her team followed up to discover a huge colony of Mexican free-tailed bats – what she says might be one of the largest in Arizona. “It’s really exciting to find something that’s larger than anything else you know about,” she says. “And that’s what I love about my job. There’s a lot of variety to what I can work on, and yeah, there are still cool things to discover.”
Other surprises are subtler, like when McIntire was excited to see the new bat emoji. “I don’t post a ton on Facebook, but when I saw that I made a post, ‘The bat emoji is here,’” she says, laughing. “I try not to overuse anything, but I like it.”
But of course with surprises come challenges, including the discovery of white-nose syndrome in 2007, and still not knowing absolutely everything about Arizona’s 28 species. Including how to manage populations, not knowing which may be in trouble, and more. And McIntire puts it, “Bats can be a difficult animal to study.”
Therefore, certain tools and technology can certainly lighten the workload of a bat specialist. For McIntire, these five essentials are key.
“Gloves are a really important part of doing bat work,” says McIntre, who has had this particular pair for a number of years. She got them at a Menards in Indiana "of all places.” (More on where they come in later.)
When heading into caves, or similar environments, McIntire could use a couple different kinds of bat detectors. This one in particular, the Anabat SD2 Bat Detector, is an acoustic detector. “There’s a lot of technology involved in being a bat biologist,” she says. It's one of the parts of the job she likes.
Bat Net, Bat Bag & Crochet Hooks
In order to study bats, you do have to get your gloved hands on one, which can be tricky. A polyester bat nets can help, which look more or less like giant hairnets.
McIntire explains that typically in Arizona, you place the net over water for when bats come to drink or forage. They get caught in the net, but usually don’t get very tangled. If they do, she sometimes she uses a little crochet hook to gentle removes the extra tangled bats from the net. “They’re hands are in their wings, and their little thumbs stick up,” she says, “Which is what gets caught in the net.”
Once removed, you place the bat in a bat bag (McIntire prefers soft-material bat bags), and take them to an area to be processed and measured. “People who are afraid of bats might see the little cute bag and think, 'Oh…,’” she says of the soft pink cotton drawstring bag she currently uses to transport bats.
Random Household Items
Even household items can assist as processing gear, including a toilet paper roll. “This is really how I was weighing bats that night [of the Mexican free-tailed colony discovery] because the little ones back up into the TP roll [taped together on one end], and just stay there while we put them on the scale.” It’s also adorable.
As a bat specialist, McIntire uses maps quite a bit to find her subject of specialty. She says she uses her iPad as a map more and more recently as an alternative to a GPS device. She uses an ArcGIS program, and has a staff of people at AZGFD creating maps for her.
Data Form & Key & Field Notebook
Even with all her experience, McIntire is not above using a key and taking notes. Some species of bat are very similar (for example, Myotis or “mouse ear” bats), so she’ll look bat at a key to define certain characteristics. A heavy-duty and “beautiful” clipboard, ideal for fieldwork and almost anything else, secures her data forms and keys.
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And for making notes, McIntire says she’s really specific about which notebook she uses when out in the field. She prefers the 374-page, Rite in the Rain all-weather universal field-flex field book. And to write with? Preferably the .38mm PILOT G2 gel ink pens.
McIntire lists off where to find bats in Arizona. “We have bats that roost in all types of structures and natural caves and abandoned mines and cracks and crevices and tree roosting bats,” she says. Therefore, a headlamp is an obvious essential for this type of work.
“Whether you’re going in a cave, a roost, working at night, you’ve always got a headlamp on,” she says, “And I’ve got a really cool headlamp.”