By Terri Estes
People HATE bats! Bats are creatures to be feared, right? They fly into people’s hair and invade homes through chimneys. They even turn into vampires and suck our blood. Bats are the subject of many unfounded stories and old wives’ tales. Well, believe it or not, bats are our friends! They are voracious insect-eaters and play a crucial role in regulating insect populations, including mosquitos. A single bat can consume over a thousand mosquitos in a single night. Some studies have reported that a single bat can consume up to a thousand mosquitos in a single hour of feeding. Mosquitos are just a part of their diet. They consume moths, beetles, flies, cockroaches, wasps and just about any other insect that is unlucky enough to cross a bat’s path.
Bats are nocturnal animals. This means that they are primarily active at night. Most bats emerge from their roosts at dusk and their feeding activity begins. It is also a common myth that bats are blind (blind as a bat). Bats can, in fact, see. They have better eyesight in low-light conditions than many animals. In addition to their eyesight, they rely on echolocation, a system of using sound waves to navigate and find prey in the dark.
Unfortunately, the bat populations in this region, like many other regions are facing steep declines. There are many reasons, but one of the biggest contributing factors is the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that affects bats during their hibernation periods. This disease has had devastating effects on bat colonies across North America, including the New York City/Long Island area. Habitat loss has also had a profound impact on the bat population. The changes in land use are among the challenges that bats face in this region.
There are several species of bats in our region. The most common is the little brown bat. On average, this type of bat weighs less than half an ounce and is about 2 to 4 inches in height. This little bat is very adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats including tree hollows, caves and buildings. These little guys can eat hundreds of bugs an hour, making them valuable for pest control. The next most common species is the big brown bat. This medium sized bat has a relatively large body, broad wings and large round ears. This very adaptable bat can be found in forests, woodlands and urban areas, and are often found in buildings, attics and barns. This variety of bat also eats large amounts of flying insects including mosquitos, moths and flies. There are several other local species, but these are the most common. Both these species are suffering severe declines in our area due to White Nose Syndrome and loss of habitat. Conservation efforts are underway to monitor and preserve our bat population, but we can help. Limiting pesticide use and installing bat boxes, or bat friendly natural roosting sites can help.
So, if you are sitting on your back deck on a summer evening and glimpse a bat flittering by, don’t panic, don’t fret, don’t duck and hide. Sit and enjoy the view. They are NOT interested in you. They are only interested in eating the bugs who ARE interested in you.
FUN ANIMAL FACT:
An Ostrich is the fastest flightless bird. It has a 23-foot stride.