Not So Spooky Species – Bats
By CVC’s Meagan Ruffini, Marketing and Communications Associate
Have you ever wondered why bats are associated with Halloween? This came from the notion that bats, like vampires, are active at night and drink blood. However, there are only three bat species in the world that feed on blood. Vampire bats feed on many different types of warm blooded animals, including birds, pigs and cattle. However the majority of bats, approximately 1,300 species worldwide, feed on insects, small rodents and nectar. Vampire bats are not found in Ontario – only insectivores.
Although people may be frightened of bats, they typically avoid interacting with people and have an important role in nature. They’re amazing animals. Bats are the only mammals that can fly and they’re nice to have around. A single bat can eat up to half of its body weight in insects in a single night. Watch out mosquitoes!
Unfortunately, half of Ontario’s bat species are endangered. Habitat loss and pesticide use are contributing to their decline but the most serious threat is white nose syndrome (WNS). It’s caused by the introduced fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The fungus grows on the bat’s skin and spreads through direct contact between hibernating bats. The fungus causes bats to wake up more often and for longer in the winter. As a result of this abnormal behavior, infected bats use up their energy stores too quickly, causing them to starve to death. Bats are not able to replenish their energy during the winter as their primary source of food is insects, which aren’t available until spring.
The disease has spread quickly throughout North America. Millions of bats have died since the fungus was accidentally introduced in 2006.
To better understand how widespread bats are and what habitats they use in the Credit River Watershed, we introduced a bat inventory project within our Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI) program. Staff spend evenings in June conducting nighttime surveys to detect bats. It’s hard to see bats at night, so instead, we use sound. All Ontario bat species use echolocation to “see” at night, pinpoint flying insects and communicate with other bats. Their ultrasonic sound waves have unique characteristics to tell different species or groups of bats apart.
We collect sound recordings by driving slowly in areas with suitable bat habitat. Back at the office, we use an analysis program to sort the sound recordings into groups of similar calls. Then, the software measures the sound waves – how long the call goes on for and its frequency. By cross-referencing the sound characteristics and habitat, we are able to identify the species that made the call.
Little Brown Bat Calls
How can you help bats on your property?
Grow native plants such as Evening Primrose, Gray Goldenrod, and Common Boneset that attract insects that bats eat. If you have a bird bath, bats can use it as a water source at night. Make sure to fill it up. You can enhance bat nesting sites by installing a bat box in a sunny location.
If you find a sick or injured bat, be careful not to touch it. Scoop or nudge the bat into a container, secure it and contact a local rehabilitation centre.
Together we can help protect our at-risk bat species.
To learn more about the plants and animals of the Credit River Watershed, see here.