Denise Schreiber is the infamous Mrs. Know It All of The Organic Gardeners on KDKA radio and author of Eat Your Roses.
 

 
 

Bats Are the Good Guys
by Denise Schreiber - posted 10/05/18

A Little brown bat


Halloween is coming, and we all are carving pumpkins and decorating the yard with funny and scary creatures. However, the one creature that strikes fear into everyone’s heart is very real – the bat.

When you think of bats, visions of Dracula in the old movies probably pop into your head, with him saying, “I vant to drink your blood,” as he attacks, drinks said blood, and then turns into a bat and flits away. And then there are the old sayings such as someone “has bats in their belfry” meaning they are crazy, someone is “blind as a bat” or my favorite, someone is “bat s**t crazy” (which can sometimes describe me at certain times of the year).

Put your fears aside – there aren’t vampire bats in our area, although there are plenty of beneficial species “hanging around.”

There are several species of bats that live in our area, with some rare species that visit occasionally. All of this area’s bats are known as evening bats or common bats. They are the only mammal that can fly. Bats belong to the family Vespertilionidae, and they are insect eaters (so no worries about your neck there).


Giant brown bats
 

I’m sure you are thinking, “Why should I care about bats?” For a number of reasons – including tequila and chocolate. While nectar-loving bats aren’t native here, they do live in other parts of our country. Many night-blooming plants are pollinated by bats, such as the blue agave (the main ingredient in tequila), the cocoa plant (a key component in chocolate) and other plants like mangoes and bananas.

There are so many misconceptions about bats that we have to set the record straight. Bats are not prone to rabies any more than any other mammal. Bats are not aggressive, and do not attack people. Bats are not covered in lice. Bats’ droppings, called guano, do not carry diseases including tuberculosis.

Eastern small footed bat

Now, with all that being said, you also need to be cautious if you find yourself dealing with bats. If you find a bat on the ground, you should call your local game commission officer and don’t try to do relocate it yourself. If you are cleaning out an area that has been the roosting place for a colony of bats, and if there is a lot of residual guano, you should wear a protective mask. If bats have found their way into your attic, call a reputable pest control operator to remedy the situation. Extermination is not a good practice because poisoning the bats can result in poisoning other animals that feed on the carcasses. There are no pesticides approved for bats. If you do have bats, seal up the area after they leave in the fall so they don’t return to the same place. Don’t seal it up in the summer, because you would be trapping in their young who cannot yet fly. Plus the smell of rotting bats in the attic might be enough to make you move.

Now why would you want to have bats hanging around your neighborhood? Because they can eat up to 100 percent of their body weight worth of insects each night. They consume approximately 1,200 insects per hour. Moths, gnats, crickets, beetles, locusts, mosquitoes, fruit flies, and other bugs are frequently eaten by bats.

Some species of bats migrate south for the colder weather, but many bats hibernate underground or in caves during the fall, winter, and early spring. Their body temperatures drop and respiration and heartbeat slow. Once the insect population begins to rouse in the spring, the bats wake for feeding.

Bats actually have very good eyesight, contrary to popular belief. Their well-developed hearing gives them the advantage in the dark for catching insects. Bats use echolocation for finding their prey. They give off a series of high-pitched squeals (usually inaudible to us), which echo off landmarks such as buildings or trees and allow them to locate the insect. Those sound bursts may only last 2.5 milliseconds, but they are long enough for them to target their food.

The bats that live in our area include the big brown bat, the little brown bat, the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat, the small-footed bat, the silver-haired bat, the red bat, and the hoary bat.

Hoary bats are the largest bat of the Eastern forests, and they roost in trees, preferably conifers. They eat mostly moths, but will also eat beetles and mosquitoes.

Indiana bat

The big brown bat is next largest in size, and it is an important deterrent of insects for farming communities. Their food includes stinkbugs, leafhoppers, and June bugs, all of which are major agricultural pests. Big brown bats have been known to live as long as 19 years.

The little brown bat is the most common bat in our area. Little brown bats make several feeding flights in an evening, and they are one of the most prolific eaters of insects. Females only bear a single pup (baby) each year.

The small-footed bat, also known as Leib’s bat, is one of the smallest bats in North America. It resembles the little brown bat, but it is less common. Very little is actually known about this bat.

The Indiana bat often hibernates in large caves in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky. Indiana bats are also known as the “social bat,” because they typically roost in large groups of approximately 250. Unfortunately, cavers often disturb their hibernation, and can awaken them and force them out into the cold. The Indiana bat was listed as federally endangered under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967, due to the dramatic decline of populations throughout their range.


Silver haired bat
 

Silver-haired, red, and hoary bats all migrate south for the winter rather than hibernate.

Unfortunately there is a fatal disease that is taking a high toll on many species of bats called white-nose syndrome. The disease, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, is caused by a fungus that thrives in the cold environments where bats hibernate. Hibernating bats with white-nose syndrome will often display this white fungus on their noses and on other hairless parts of their bodies. The Indiana bat has been severely affected by this disease. It prevents them from flying properly. There has been a lot of research into halting the spread of this disease.

So the next time you are outside in the evening and you hear bats flying above you, just remember they are eating insects while you are enjoying your margarita and chocolate candy.

 

A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Forest Service Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, SRS, Bugwood.org; Jerry A. Payne USDA Agricultural Research Service; US Fish and Wildlife Service; and Lassen NPS.

 

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