ALL ABOUT BATS
Mysterious Night Flyers
Unless you are sitting outside in the evening and you see bats swooping through the air, it is easy to forget about them. They don’t have the bright colors and beautiful songs of some of our birds. In fact, they are so stealthy that there is a lot we still don’t know about them. The Spotted Bat, which is one of our largest and least stealthy bats, wasn’t discovered in Canada until 1979! The echolocation sounds that Spotted Bats use to navigate in the dark and find insects is very low-pitched compared to other bats and is actually audible to human ears. In spite of all this though, we still don’t know where Spotted Bats roost for the winter.
There are 16 species of bat in BC and 14 of those can be found in the Okanagan
There are 5 species of bat in the Okanagan that will use bat houses
A Little Brown Bat can eat 1000 mosquito sized insects in one hour
Bats eat bugs, not blood!
The bats of BC are all exclusively insect eaters. Worldwide there are bats that drink blood and bats that eat fruit. However, all of the bats in the Okanagan eat nothing but insects. Most bats catch insects as they fly, but some will also look for insects on the ground or in trees. The Little Brown Myotis can eat more than its weight in insects in a single night while caring for young. Most bats favourite food is moths, which makes them great allies for the farmers in the valley, since many caterpillars are pests on crop plants. For example, cutworms are a major grape pest and coddling moth are a huge problem for apple orchardists, and bats eat the adults of both! The Little Brown Myotis (shown below) can eat more than its weight in insects in a single night while for caring young.
Bats and disease
Many people associate bats with rabies, and they can carry the disease, but it is quite rare. Of the bats that are sent to the Centre for Disease Control, that are suspected of being rabid, only about 6% carry the disease. Less than 0.5% of bats are thought to have rabies. Rabies is transmitted through bites. To protect yourself it is a good idea to never handle bats and to make sure pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations.
Bats and White Nose Syndrome
Bats across North America are being gravely threatened not just by human activities but by a new disease called White Nose Syndrome. (WNS). This fungal infection from Europe causes bats to wake up during their winter hibernation and groom the spores off their fur. The repeated awakenings uses up their winter fat stores too quickly and most bats who catch it will slowly starve to death before the spring. WNS has not yet reached Western North America but in the East, the disease has caused 70-100% mortality in most colonies it infects. WNS cannot be caught by humans, but we are almost certainly the ones who brought it over to our bats in the first place.
Help stop the spread of White Nose Syndrome!
White Nose Syndrome is a disease affecting only bats, not humans and has recently been found in Western North America. If you are a caver, disinfecting shoes, clothing and caving equipment can help slow the spread of this devastating disease.
What about bat boxes?
Bat boxes are a lot like bird houses; they both aim to create safe spaces for either bats or birds to rest and raise their young. Unlike most birds though, bats live in colonies and are quite loyal to one roost, which means they don't search for a different home every year. This means that if you put up a bat box without a bat colony nearby, you may not get bats in it. Bat boxes are most successful when installed as an alternate roost for a colony of bats in an unwanted nearby location like an attic. Putting up clusters of bat boxes in different areas also can allow bats to choose different boxes at different times of year and lets them move around if one box gets too hot or too cold. Best management practices for bat boxes can be found at BCbats.ca.
How do I help bats?
Even if a bat box may not be the best fit for your property, there are still many things you can do!
Volunteer to help with bat counts! Counting bats as they leave their roosts helps biologists understand their population numbers. The BC Community Bat Program or the Bat Education & Ecological Protection Society in Peachland are good places to start
Educate others about bats. Many people are still afraid of bats and don't realize how helpful they are
Conserve bat habitat. Bats, like many other species, are threatened by loss of habitat. They need roosting habitat like cliffs and forests, foraging habitat with lots of bugs, and watering areas like creeks and wetlands
More Bat Facts!
Blind as a bat? Bats don’t see colour, but they have better night vision that humans and they augment their vision with echo location
Bats can live more than 30 years
The smallest bat in BC is the Western Small-footed Myotis – they have a wing span of 22cm about the same as a chickadee and weigh less than a nickel
The largest bat in BC is the Hoary Bat – they have a wing span of 40 cm about the same as a swallow and weighs a little more than a double A battery