Understanding Bats

There are over 1200 species of bats worldwide. Bats are found in every country of the world except the Antarctic. Seventeen of these are found in Canada each year. Bats are the only mammal that can fly. Their wings resemble a human hand with four elongated fingers and a thumb. Scientists have used the Greek word Chiroptera describing them as a hand-wing.

Photo Credits- Gerwin Sturm

There are two suborders of bats, Megabats – Megachiroptera, and Microbats – Microchiroptera. Megabats have large eyes and smaller ears. They eat fruit and nectar and do not require echolocation to locate food. The largest bat is the Giant Flying Fox with a wing-span of 6 ft. and can weigh up to 3 lbs.

Photo Credits – Andrei Sakhno

Microbats have large ears and smaller eyes and consume insects. These bats hunt at night and use echolocation to find their prey. This means that a high-frequency sound is emitted through their mouth and will travel until it hits an object. The sound will then bounce back to the bats’ ear enabling them to locate and eat insects. Whales and dolphins also use echolocation to navigate their way through dark ocean waters. Despite the saying ‘Blind as a Bat’, bats do have good eyesight.

Little Brown Bats and Big Brown Bats are common in Ontario. Their diet consists of insects including mosquitoes, moths, beetles, midges, mayflies and caddis flies. Bats need to consume 50 to 100% of their body weight each night. They use their wing and tail membranes to capture the insects. Leaving a light on in your backyard makes it easier for bats to feed as insects and moths are attracted to light.

Photo Credits – Matt Reinbold

Baby bats, or pups as they’re called, are born in the late spring or early summer. Bats have a delayed implantation, mating in the fall and becoming pregnant in the spring. One or two pups are born and if there are two pups they’re twins. They will be nursed until they are able to fly which is usually in 18 days. Pups will follow their mother to learn her feeding techniques until they are able to feed on their own.

Microbats hibernate from late October until April. They will search for structures that are not disturbed by human activity. These can include attics, caves, mines, tunnels, hollow logs and bridges. Little Brown Bats and Big Brown Bats will roost in colonies. If their summer roosts maintain a temperature above freezing, they will be able to hibernate there. Solitary bats such as the Hoary and Red bats will migrate further south.

Natural habitat for bats is becoming scarce due to deforestation. Putting up a bat house will certainly help with this. March is a good time to do this as they will be migrating back to their summer habitats in April. Placing bat guano by the opening of the house will encourage bats to use the house. Alternatively, an all-natural bat attract spray can also be used. Migrating bats will come back to the same bat house year after year. Bat Houses should be placed 15-20 ft. from the ground facing south east. This way the house will get the morning sun keeping it warm for the bats as they love the heat. Bat houses can be mounted on a pole or attached to a structure or tree trunk. If you choose to put in on a tree, the foliage must be cleared away to avoid shading the house. Urban Nature Store offers a variety of bat houses for your home or cottage including single, double and triple celled.

Bats are very beneficial to the environment all around the world. Without bats we would be using more insecticides, and preventing our tropical rain forests from naturally regenerating.

Author – Jane Paradis

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