Beyond Your Backyard: "Why Our Bats Are at Risk" 🦇
Kimberly J. Epp
🦇 Please join us at the Moose Jaw Public Library (upstairs) at 6:30 pm for a no-cost informative program by Professor Vikram Misra on Wednesday, October 17th. Refreshments also served. 🦇
Bats are secretive and mythical creatures, sadly given the bad rap they never deserved. Bats don't fly in your hair. Bats won't attack you. The bats we have in Saskatchewan are more concerned with preying on small insects. In fact, one Little Brown Bat can consume 600 mosquitoes in just half an hour.
What species of bat do we have in Saskatchewan? We have eight species in our province; the Little Brown Bat, Northern Long-eared Bat, Western Long-eared Bat, Small-footed Bat, Silver-haired Bat, Big Brown Bat, Red Bat and Hoary Bat. But none of these small bats are to be feared. In fact, many you may likely never see.
Bats are the only mammals that can truly fly. Although their eyes are small, they are not blind. Bats are crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn), nocturnal (active at night), or a combination of both. They are able to fly in complete darkness, using echolocation. They emit high-pitched sounds that humans cannot detect. These sounds bounce off of nearby objects, preventing them from flying into them.
Bats in Saskatchewan survive our long, cold winters two different ways. Some, such as the red, hoary and silver-haired bats, migrate to warmer areas. They remain active in these wintering grounds or hibernate. Other species hibernate over the winter here in Canada. They live off of their stored fat, hibernating usually in caves or deep rock crevices. Very few of these sites are known of in Saskatchewan, although cave hibernation sites are known of in Manitoba.
Interesting facts; Bats have been on the planet over 50 million years. There are more than 1,000 species on the planet. Females can consume 1.5 times their body weight each night when suckling young. During the summer, many male bats roost alone while females roost with their young. They roost upside down, hanging from their feet. Bats control insect populations more than any other insect-eating creatures. They may travel hundreds of kilometers to a suitable hibernation site, often returning year after year. A Little Brown Bat can live up to 25 years.
Sadly, humans are having an impact on bats. Awakening whole populations of hibernating bats can cause a whole population to die when people enter these hibernation caves. Bats eating infected insects treated with insecticides can also build up in the bat's fatty tissues. These toxins can cause death in high concentrations. Deforestation also affects bats. Logging removes trees with cavities and crevices, which are bat roosting habitats.
And sadly, another big threat, even bigger to the other threats, is the white-nose syndrome in Little Brown Bat hibernation sites. Millions of bats have been killed by this fungal infection in both Canada and the USA. It was first identified in 2006 in a cave in Schoharie County, New York. It has since rapidly spread, and may be a threat to the extistence of Little Brown Bats.
The fungus colonizes the bat's skin. The once common Little Brown Bat, although not the only bat species affected, has had a drastic reduction in its population. Recently a hibernation site in Manitoba was infected. To learn more about this disease and its impact, the Moose Jaw Nature Society is hosting an event this Wednesday.
Epp is an Environmental Educator and writer. She is also President of the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.