Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Batty About Bats

Bats are the primary predator of night-flying insects such as moths, beetles, and mosquitoes. Did you know that a single bat can catch hundreds of insects in just one hour? That can mean consuming from 30 to 50 percent of its body weight in insects each night!

Christy Macdonald, Fish and Wildlife Technical Specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources joined us for the third Nature Quest workshop of the summer to tell us about bats in Ontario and some of the challenges they face. Here are some of the highlights from the afternoon.

There are eight different species of bats in Ontario. Can you name them? Above is the big brown bat. Below, is the tri-coloured bat.

There is also the Hoary bat, the Eastern Red bat, the Silver-haired bat, the Northern Long-eared bat, the Eastern Small footed bat, and the Little Brown bat. Ontario's bats are a mix of cavity and foliage roosters. Cavity roosters roost in caves (or sometimes bat houses) in large numbers and hibernate over winter. Foliage roosters don't form colonies but instead live singularly in trees. The Eastern Red bat, the Hoary bat, and the Tri-coloured bat are all foliage roosters.

One serious issue Christy spoke with the group about is white-nosed syndrome. The Little brown bat above has the outward physical signs of this white fungus which first appears on the nose and face areas and has since spread the the wings. This fungus deteriorates the skin on these areas. There is not much known about this fungus that has only appeared in Ontario in the past year. It is only present in the colonies as they hibernate. Internally, the white fungus seems to cause strange behaviour in bats, such as waking up during hibernation. When they wake up they want to clean themselves of the fungus which uses their crucial energy stores. Sometimes infected bats will spend even more energy looking for food during the day-time or in winter. This is bad news, as these bats end up using their stored energy and dying of starvation.

What can you do to help? Don't go into caves or abandoned mines. And don't touch live or dead bats. You can also report sightings of bats with white-nosed syndrome by calling the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-866-673-4781.

Bat houses are another way we can help bats by creating habitat for them. There are many factors to consider when building a bat house:

  1. Design & Construction

  2. Habitat (in Muskoka, near water is a must)

  3. Sun exposure (full sun, and paint the box black)

  4. Mounting (predator guards, not on a tree)

  5. Away from predators (like racoons)

  6. Away from uninvited guests (like wasps)

  7. Timing (fall is the best time to put up a bat house)

  8. Experiment (if bats don't visit, try another location)

You will need to do some research about the specific design and construction. Some helpful links to resources are below. I would love to hear how you fare!

Above: Christy speaks to the group about the different styles and the location of the 4 bat houses at the MNR office in Bracebridge. Can you spot the three different styles in this photo?


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