Month: May 2015

Barrows Inaugural BioBlitz

Last Wednesday, the Charles H. Barrows STEM academy in North Windham, CT threw its inaugural BioBlitz, and it was an resounding success. For one entire school day, four hundred K-7 students scoured their beautiful new campus with the goal of enumerating its biodiversity for the first time.

Organized and driven by resident technology teacher Jan Tomanelli and others, the BioBlitz saw groups of fifteen students rotating through seven sites, ranging an impressive habitat diversity from courtyard garden to reedy wetland, all surrounded by a remarkably pristine deciduous forest.

Peepers and tree frogs, kingbirds and kestrel. Wolf spiders, chestnuts, and pink lady’s slippers. All totalled, the students identified an impressive 168 species of plants, animals, and fungi, and that is surely an underestimate. Next year, when the students are armed with homemade field guides and the experience of this years Blitz, species counts are certain to skyrocket.


A clouded sulphur.

But for many of us who attended to lend our expert skills, observing biodiversity at the academy was only a tasty side dish. The main course was without question interacting with these incredible youth, all of whom displayed more than enough enthusiasm and excitement to make our eyes a little teary.

Giddy to unearth new critters, proud to report their findings, and anxious to hold (or at least poke) whatever it might be, the spirit of discovery was very much alive among the Barrows students. And to my refreshment, youthful aspiration broke from old stereotypes:

“When you grow up, do you want to be a scientist?” one gregarious young woman asked me, aged perhaps eight or nine. Excited, she continued before I could answer,

“What do you call scientists who like stars?” Again, she wasted no time waiting for me,

Astronomers! That’s what they’re called. I really like the stars, you see. I want to be an astronomer.”

“Do you like the planets, too?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “I don’t like the planets. Just the stars”

Equally charming and even more invigorating was the post-Blitz assembly. Call-and-response got the blood pumping, and all four hundred students performed a BioBlitz dance to electronic music of their own creation.


All 400 students, after the Blitz.

The whole experience was thoroughly fulfilling and encouraging on so many levels, not the least of which was to boost excitement for the upcoming BioBlitz this summer at Storrs.

The UConn BioBlitz will draw dozens of expert naturalists whose knowledge is literally unparalleled, and offer youth and families the opportunity to learn about nature and science. It will inspire new generations to appreciate biodiversity, to show concern for its threat, and to learn how to get involved in creating knowledge and protecting the environment.

If the UConn BioBlitz goes half as well as the Barrows Blitz, it will be a huge success. Don’t miss it!

Technology revealing biodiversity in the night sky

On a summer evening, step out onto your porch or sit by a lake and stare upward. You will probably notice little bats fluttering about in the night sky. But, how many species are there and what are they doing?

When I tell folks that I study bats, many recount fond memories of seeing a number of bats in their backyards foraging for insects on summer evenings. These often-misunderstood animals are extremely beneficial to forests and agricultural systems in North America, as they consume large quantities of insect pests. A colony of big brown bats can consume about 600,000 cucumber beetles, 194,000 June beetles, 158,000 leafhoppers, and 335,000 stinkbugs per year! 1 Today, many backyard bat watchers have noticed a decrease in the number of their bat visitors. Indeed, a number of North American bat species are facing severe declines due to an invasive exotic fungal species that causes White-nose Syndrome.2 Now more than ever, monitoring of bat populations is needed by wildlife biologists and the public.

During the UConn BioBlitz, we will survey bats using acoustic monitoring devices. This technology has been used by wildlife biologists for decades to record and analyze bat echolocation calls, which can tell us what species are present, their activity patterns within a particular habitat, and characteristics of their foraging behavior.



IMG_0001big brown bat


Here, the spectrogram images produced by an acoustic monitoring system depict the frequency of bat calls in real time. This signal is unique to the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), one of the most common bat species found in Connecticut. This particular individual was recorded foraging along Horsebarn Hill Road on the UConn Storrs campus. Indeed, the BioBlitz bat surveys will allow us to determine the presence of other Connecticut species, providing important baseline data of bats in general on the UConn campus as well as of particular bats that are severely affected by White-nose Syndrome.

Today, bat acoustic monitoring technology has advanced so much that virtually anyone can monitor bats in their own backyard! The specific monitoring system that will be used during the BioBlitz will let us record, view, and listen to bat echolocation calls in real time as well as automatically identify calls to species in the field. This monitoring system is not only very powerful for research purposes, but is also a fantastic educational tool. During the UConn BioBlitz, we will hold a workshop demonstrating how educators can incorporate this user-friendly technology into classroom activities to introduce students to the fascinating world of bats.


1 Kunz, T.H., Braun de Torrez, E., Bauer, D., Lobova, T. & Fleming, T.H. (2011) Ecosystem services provided by bats. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1223, 1–38.

2 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2014) The devastating disease of hibernating bats in North America. Available at:

What is a Bioblitz?

Forms on Aurora are currently unavailable due to scheduled maintenance.

We have had over 100 replies already on our quiz regarding participation in and knowledge of Bioblitz’s! It turns out that not a lot of people have heard about Bioblitz’s before going to our website (48% of people surveyed at the time of this post).

In short, a Bioblitz is a coordinated effort to try and survey all of the species that can be found in a particular area, over a predefined period of time (usually 24 hours). We hope that you can make use of the links and the video on the front page to find out more details about Bioblitz’s and to answer any questions you may have. Also feel free to contact us if you want to find out more before getting involved, we are happy to talk about Bioblitz’s.

The quiz is still live, feel free to add your story. Then check out our new quiz that asks just how many species you think we will find!?

Also, remember to sign-up to participate or volunteer in the great events that will be happening over the 24 hour period from July 24th-25th.


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