Halloween Citizen Science in the Classroom: Answer the Bat Call!

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Citizen Science in the Classroom Series where we explore the use of citizen science projects to teach science in the classroom by aligning them with Common Core and Next Generation STEM standards . For more such projects check out the resources page for educators on SciStarter!


Mexican Free Tailed Bats in Texas exit their ‘bat cave’ to hunt for flying insects
Mexican Free Tailed Bats in Texas exit their ‘bat cave’ to hunt for flying insects (Photo Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service CC BY 2.0)

Did you know? This week is Bat Week! There are many exciting online resources and activities for Bat Week. Visit Bat Week’s virtual host, BatsLive Project Edubat for additional Bat Week information and resources on how you can help bats!

Bat Detective

Grades: 4th-12th


Have you ever wondered about the secret lives of bats? Their adaptations, what and when they eat, where they sleep, how they communicate, their migration and hibernation patterns, and more? As a mostly nocturnal mammal species, we don’t often see them.

Bat Detective is a citizen science project that enables you and your students to explore bats like never before. All you will need is a computer with internet access. On the Bat Detective site, you’ll find resources to learn more about bats, areas to discuss bats and bat calls, as well as the area where you’ll engage in classifying actual bat vocalizations.

Bats mostly communicate in a range that our human ears are not able to hear. But scientists record and convert high frequency bat sounds into a range that we can hear. Bats communicate to locate food (echolocate, like sonar) and they also communicate with other bats, such as mothers to their babies, male bats calling for female mates, and also when bats are exhibiting territorial behaviors. Scientists have also learned that female to female bat ‘conversations’ sound differently than female to male bat ‘conversations’- wonder what they are saying?

As you can probably guess, there is a lot still to be learned about bat communication and vocalizations. We hope you’ll help in this exciting area of research by participating in Bat Detective, and perhaps by learning more about bats, we’ll also learn more about social communication in mammals as well as global ecosystem services provided by bats!

Ready to get started?

On the Bat Detective website, you can start classifying right away, or if you prefer, you can read background information before getting started.

To start classifying, you’ll click “Classify” on the page’s menu to begin a walk through of how to play the audio sound and mark the sound you’d like to help analyze further. A main goal in Bat Detective is to have citizen scientists identify the sounds they hear- a lot of the sound in recordings is background noise (such as car sounds, insect sounds, machines, bird sounds) and so one aspect of the project is to sort the sounds by what you hear and identifying what you perceive as the source of what you are hearing.

In addition, the Bat Detective website walks users through the classification process in a very user friendly way.  Bat Detective has also provided helpful resources to serve as a field guide with useful information.  While you can do the project without creating an account, signing up allows you to save your work go back to at any time.

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

Interest: Bats are a great organism to study in the fall- students are naturally curious about this critter and their unique adaptations, especially during this season!
Authentic Science: Bat Detective allows students to use skills such as listening, differentiating, processing, and classifying on data collected in the field, all without leaving the classroom!
Cultivates 21st century skills: Students will use technology to engage in real world inquiry and analysis just like a scientist would do; in addition, students will have the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with peers in the classroom as they work on bat call classification.
Materials: Can’t beat the cost (free!)- Bat Detective has provided everything you need on their website- no additional materials to gather or provide!


Materials You’ll Need:

• For Bat Detective all you will need is a computer with internet access and sound/audio capability (so that you can listen to the bat sounds)

Teaching Materials:

• Materials on the Bat Detective website
BatsLive Lesson Resources


Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Met:

Fourth Grade:
Next. Gen. Science:

Life Science Disciplinary Core Idea LS1.D: Information Processing

• Different sense receptors are specialized for particular kinds of information, which may be then processed by the animal’s brain. Animals are able to use their perceptions and memories to guide their actions. (4-LS1-2)

Fourth grade science and engineering practices:

Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Engaging in argument from evidence in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to critiquing the scientific explanations or solutions proposed by peers by citing relevant evidence about the natural and designed world(s).
• Construct an argument with evidence, data, and/or a model. (4-LS1-1)

Middle School (6-8):
Next. Gen. Science:

Middle school life science disciplinary core idea LS1.D: Information Processing
• Each sense receptor responds to different inputs (electromagnetic, mechanical, chemical), transmitting them as signals that travel along nerve cells to the brain. The signals are then processed in the brain, resulting in immediate behaviors or memories. (MS-LS1-8)

Middle School science and engineering practices: connections to the nature of science

Scientific Knowledge is based on empirical evidence

• Science knowledge is based upon logical connections between evidence and explanations. (MS-LS1-6)

High School (9-12):
Next. Gen. Science:
High School science and engineering practices: connections to the nature of science

Scientific Investigations use a variety of methods

• Scientific inquiry is characterized by a common set of values that include: logical thinking, precision, open-mindedness, objectivity, skepticism, replicability of results, and honest and ethical reporting of findings. (HS-LS1-3)
High School cross cutting concepts: connections to the nature of science
Science is a Human Endeavor

• Technological advances have influenced the progress of science and science has influenced advances in technology. (HS-LS3-3)
• Science and engineering are influenced by society and society is influenced by science and engineering. (HS-LS3-3)


Other Bat Citizen Science Projects on SciStarter:

Continue and extend your bat related activities with two additional bat related citizen science projects found on SciStarter:

Bat Watch
Bat Surveys

Further ideas:

• You can have your students engage in authentic project based learning (PBL) to study real world issues faced by bats, such as white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal infection that can affect (and spread easily) among hibernating bat colonies
• And you can always work to provide local habitat (such as bat boxes) to study bats in your area- a bonus is that bats provide free, natural insect control services!

Online Safety for Children:

• Be sure to always follow your campus/district policies for internet use and safety in the K-12 classroom.


Jill Nugent is completing a PhD degree from Texas Tech University with a focus on citizen science, and she concurrently works full time in online higher education, where her team recently launched an online environmental science program. Jill’s BS degree is from Texas A&M University where she rode on the university equestrian team, and her MS degree is in Biological Sciences where she studied carnivore conservation and behavior. She holds teacher certification in science and life science/biology, and was honored to be a part of the writing team for the NSTA Press publication, ‘Citizen Science: 15 Lessons That Bring Biology to Life’. She is excited to explore citizen science especially at the confluence of areas including science education, conservation biology, animal behavior, and global science collaboration. You can connect with her on twitter @ntxscied 

Categories: Animals, Bats, Biology, Citizen Science, Science Education Standards

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About the Author

Jill Nugent

Jill Nugent

Jill Nugent works in higher education where she teaches and serves as an administrator in online STEM programs. Her undergraduate degree is from Texas A&M University and her master’s degree is in biological sciences where she studied animal behavior and conservation biology. She holds teacher certification in science and life science/biology and is a Ph.D. candidate at Texas Tech University where she is investigating locally engaged, globally connected citizen science. Jill authors a monthly citizen science column in the NSTA Journal, Science Scope and was a contributing author on the NSTA Press book, “Citizen Science: 15 Lessons That Bring Biology to Life”. Outside of teaching, writing, and engaging in citizen science projects, Jill enjoys volunteering with ManeGait, a therapeutic riding equestrian center in North Texas. You can connect with Jill on Twitter @ntxscied.