Not So Spooky Species – Bats

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.


Bat Detector

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.

7 Comment
  • Dale St Clair says:

    We have 2 “resident” bats that return each spring. Your bat box is enticing, yet they also prefer nesting up in the porch rafters where they sleep during the day and do not want to be disturbed !

  • Jean Wiegard says:

    How ever was this fungus introduced?
    Some years ago there were many bats… seen at dusk, flying about with many flying over both ponds. There was always at least two pairs tucked away behind the top open door of the barn during the warm days. Hope they can make a healthy come back.

    • Thanks for your interest and concern Jean. It’s believed that the fungus was introduced from Europe by human activity in caves, specifically by people spreading fungal spores on contaminated clothing, footwear and outdoor gear. We hope so too – it’s so important to help protect our at-risk bat species. 🙂

  • Allen-Belfountain says:

    Bats that summer close to the house generally roost in the exterior rafters as mentioned by Dale which generally results in droppings all over your deck, deck furniture and your entrance way mats. I have no shortage of bats at least a dozen or more living in the overhangs and behind the shutters making a mess day and night and if you have white stucco the oil from their bodies makes a black mess. If you encourage bats to live near the house in summer you will have them in the attic and between the walls leaving their mess and odour behind in the winter. Nuts to Bat houses I prefer MOSQUITOES.

    • Allen, you raised some interesting points. Like everything in nature, there are opportunities and challenges. We’re reaching out now to our experts and we’ll be happy to respond to you offline with some options to manage situations like this. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Tooba says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article! What a great read!

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