Don’t Be Afraid of the Big Brown Bat

A bat on a tree.

Bats are Beautiful

Bats are far less frightening than you might think. In fact, we should be helping them, not hiding from them.

Despite strong competition from slinky black cats, bats might be the animal most commonly associated with Halloween. But bats are actually more fascinating than frightening. Keep reading to discover why bats got a bad rap and why protecting them is so important.

Although bats may look like mice and fly like a barn swallow, they’re neither rodents nor birds. Bats fall under their own biological group, Chiroptera, which is the second largest order of mammals and translates to “hand wing”. They’re found in almost every part of the world, and there are over 1,400 species, eight of which are found in Ontario (including the big brown bat). What makes them particularly special is that they’re the only known mammal capable of sustained flight and they’re important to Canada’s food security.

All of Canada’s bats are insectivores, meaning they eat insects. A single brown bat can eat hundreds of insects per hour. Their huge appetites save Canadian farmers an estimated $3.7 billion in pest control costs annually.

Wrongfully Accused: Top 3 Myths About Bats

  1. Bats are not blind. The phrase “blind as a bat” likely originated from the fact that a bat’s erratic flying pattern can make it seem like it can’t see. But a bat’s little eyes can see quite well, especially at night.
  2. All bats don’t have rabies. The number of bats that carry rabies is actually quite small (56 confirmed in all of Canada in 2022) and they’re also less likely to spread infectious diseases than reported.
  3. Bats will not get stuck in your hair. Bat echolocation is so precise that it’s very unlikely a bat would get stuck in your hair. The myth that a bat will fly into your hair was likely used to deter young women from going out at night.

Unfortunately, bat populations have rapidly declined. Although populations are stabilizing, five of Ontario’s bat species are still considered at risk. This is in part due to the loss of breeding and foraging habitat. Bat populations have also declined due to the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease which causes bats to wake up more often during hibernation, decreasing their chances of survival through the winter.

You can help support bat recovery by installing bat boxes, protecting streams and creeks, and planting diverse native trees and plants on your property. Almost any mature native tree will provide suitable roosting habitat for Ontario species, as well as support other wildlife, like birds and insects.

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