Bats are facing a scary future
Calgary Regional Coordinator at Alberta Community Bat Program of Wildlife Conservation Society Canada
This Halloween, the spookiest story we can tell about bats is what our world would be like without them.
Our only flying mammal (take that, Batman) is a pest control superhero, a shaper of ecosystems, and one of the longest-lived small animals around. But bats are facing some strong headwinds these days, from habitat loss to the spread of a deadly disease – white-nose syndrome (WNS).
Here are some things you need to know about these fascinating creatures before you slip into your bat-themed costume (you are going out as one of the coolest animals around, right?) and why we all need to be #FriendsForBats.
Photo: Little Brown Myotis Bat by Jason Headley. At about one month of age, Little Brown Myotis can fly and find food on their own. Each mother can identify her offspring based on scent and calls.
Bats are big eaters
It’s been estimated that bats provide services worth anywhere from $3.7 to $53 billion dollars per year for the agricultural industry in the United States. That’s because bats can eat their own weight in insects every night! In fact, one study found that the value of agricultural land in areas where bat populations have been decimated by WNS was lower than in areas with still healthy bat populations.
Bats can see tiny insects (and other stuff) in total darkness
Bats can “see” and find tiny prey in the dark using their sophisticated echolocation abilities, which they can also use to navigate around obstacles. Bats like to eat the mosquitoes flying above your head, but they are far better at flying than to ever get caught in people’s hair (despite what you see in movies). (More on bats use of sound in this story).
Bats live long lives
If you see a bat in the night sky, you might be watching an animal that is in its teens or even twenties. One bat observed in Alberta was almost 39 years old – an extraordinary age for a small mammal, most of which won’t make it past their third birthday. This age estimate was based on banding data – the bat had been previously identified and was rediscovered decades later at a hibernation site.
The girls like to hang together
Summer colonies of bats or large groups of bats are almost always groups of females hanging with their offspring. Females often return to the exact same location every year, where they are joined by their daughters from previous summers. The result is a very socially connected group of animals.
There’s a lot we don’t know about bats
Up until seven years ago, there was no coordinated effort to monitor North American bat populations. We still have only basic ideas about where many western bats hibernate (unlike their eastern cousins, western bats don’t gather in big numbers in caves). And until an innovative project led by WCS Canada to collect bat poop under bridges (more on that soon), we didn’t know how fast WNS was spreading west in Canada.
Bats are in trouble and that’s spooky
Thanks to the innovative research efforts of our western bat program, we now know that WNS has arrived in Saskatchewan. We found the fungus that causes the disease in a number of places in the province. WNS has been absolutely devastating for eastern bats – wiping out entire populations and landing species like Little Brown Myotis on the national endangered species list. Most bats impacted by white-nose syndrome only give birth to one pup per year; it is very difficult for them to bounce back from such huge impacts.
Bats are cool, and need our help
Our Alberta Community Bat program is not just leading research on the threats facing bats; it is working to find ways to help bats survive – and thrive. Whether that is working with farmers to increase understanding of bat services and to maintain on-farm habitat or talking to people and groups in communities throughout the province to bust myths and build support, the program is the friend bats need right now.
But bats need more friends. The Alberta Community Bat program has set a goal of raising $5,000 to support our work to spread the word about all the good that bats do. We’re getting close to halfway to our goal, but with a Halloween deadline fast approaching, we need all the support we can get to make life just a little easier for our high-flying friends.
You’ll be rewarded with a chance to win some great batty prizes and with the knowledge that you are helping a sophisticated, social and superbly adapted species that has seen its habitat – like old trees used for roosting – steadily decline. Of course, helping bats directly by maintaining habitats like older trees, beaver ponds, and vegetation along rivers and creeks is one of the best ways you can help, besides spreading the word about why bats are important or helping them get a better reputation.
That’s why our community program works hard to help people with projects to help bats – and to learn to love them as much as we do.
Tweet about it:
Parents, please check your kids' candy this Halloween! Just found matching funds when you donate to @albertabats until October 31 inside this fun size Snickers bar! https://t.co/jMUI0rkIWP#FriendsForBats #BatAppreciationMonth #BatTwitter pic.twitter.com/gciwZUsl2p— WCS Canada (@WCS_Canada) October 14, 2022
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