A group of biologists studying the ecology and health of prairie bats out of the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina, and the University of Winnipeg are wanting to know if people have any bats on their properties. Bats are very important as they help keep agricultural insect pests in check, which is important for our environment and our economy. The bats in Canada eat mostly flying insects like moths, mosquitoes, beetles, and flies and can consume up to 100% of their body weight in insects per night. While most of the bats in Canada feed off smaller insects it is interesting to note that some larger varieties of bats feed on grasshoppers. Bats consume a broad array of agricultural pests thus providing a benefit to farmers at no cost and play a role as pollinators and seed spreaders as well. If one stops to think how many pests to crops and gardens could be consumed by a colony of bats, their value in an ecosystem becomes more apparent. Around the world, bats play an essential role in pest control, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds. Saskatchewan has eight species of bats residing in the province: Little Brown bat, Northern Long-eared bat, Long-eared bat, Western Small-footed bat, Silver-haired bat, Red bat, Hoary bat, and the Big Brown bat.

The biologists are hoping to track White-nose syndrome (WNS) and its effects on two endangered bat species in Saskatchewan, the Little Brown Bat and the Northern Myotis (aka Northern Long-Eared Bat), but to help these bats they first must find them. White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which was accidentally introduced to North America in 2006 near Albany, New York. The fungus was found to have originated from Europe and Asia, but the bats there seem to have a resistance to it and don’t appear to get sick from it. WNS causes North American hibernating bats to become more active over winter. This results in them burning through their fat stores too quickly and they end up starving or freezing to death over winter. WNS spreads very quickly, and once it is introduced to a hibernaculum it can kill 90-100% of the bats in that colony. The fungus spreads when one bat comes into direct contact with another but may also be transmitted when humans inadvertently carry it on their shoes or clothing from one hibernaculum to another. There is currently no cure for this wildlife disease, but research is underway to find ways to improve their chances of survival. www.whitenosesyndrome.org is a great resource to learn about WNS.

White-nose syndrome has caused a greater than 90 percent decline in known populations of hibernating myotis bats in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. The fungus is moving west, and in 2021was discovered in Saskatchewan. As a result, there is an urgent need to determine the population status of myotis bats in Saskatchewan, as well as determine what type of habitats they are using for different parts of their life cycle. By understanding what habitat is being used and the extent of that use, management in the areas where these species occur can be tailored to benefit the species and aid in their protection and recovery.

Often bats can be found roosting in old barns and other older structures on homesteads. They like tight spaces, like the space in between a sliding barn door and the wall or in the wall of abandoned old buildings. However, they might also be found roosting in the cracks of bridges, the attics of in-use buildings, bat boxes, rock crevices, and under the bark of dead trees. In other provinces, a lot of these bats will roost in caves and abandoned mines, but since Saskatchewan doesn’t have as many caves, we have to find them in these other places.

Folks might know if they have bats if they have seen them flying around at night. They are most visible around dusk and dawn and typically are seen flying to or over sources of water, such as dugouts, ponds, or wetlands. If you have roosting bats, you might know if you’ve seen a pile of bat guano (bat droppings) collecting under where they roost. If bats are in your attic, you’ll also often hear them throughout the day and night. It can sound like scratching in the walls or ceiling, chirping or squeaking if the bats are disturbed, or flapping of wings.

The Northern Myotis measures between 8 to 10 cm in length and only weighs between 5 to 8 g and for those who still think in pounds and ounces that is approximately a quarter of an ounce. Its fur and wing membranes are light brown in colour. Its primary habitat is the boreal forest, so while it would be very unusual to find this particular bat around Wakaw, anyone with a cabin or property north of Prince Albert could have a colony hungrily helping to control their insect population. They will hibernate in buildings such as barns, houses, and churches, mines, and in more traditional hibernation spots like trees, rock crevices, and caves.

The Little Brown Bat was at one time the most common bat species in Canada, but it is now on the endangered species list due to the disastrous effects of WNS. They have been known to live to a ripe old age of 34 years. Measuring just slightly over 5 cm in length and weighing on average 8.5 g (one-third of an ounce), these little bats have a wingspan of 25 to 27 cm (9.8 – 10.6 inches)! This little fellow feeds on moths, flies, mosquitoes, and mayflies, but will also munch down on whatever insect is available and consume about 1000 insects each in just one summer night. Once summer is over, they will head for their winter roosts to hibernate where temperatures remain slightly above freezing from October/November to March/April.

In Canada, we have both hibernating and migrating species of bats. The bats endangered because of WNS are all of the hibernating variety. These are the ones who tend to roost in buildings, bat boxes, caves, bridges, and dead trees. Our migratory species are often solitary bats that roost in the foliage of trees and don’t form the large colonies that the hibernating bats tend to do. We also have some endangered migrating species who are not affected by WNS but experience other threats like loss of habitat and wind turbines. Large numbers of migrating bat species are killed by wind turbines each year.

There is a lot of misinformation about bats out there most of which has been passed along from years gone by. The most common fallacy is that bats are blind. While bats do use echolocation to navigate at night, their eyesight is just fine. Another misconception is that bats suck blood. There are only three species of vampire bats out of over 1400 species around the world and those three are all found in Central and South America. Depending on the species of bat, they eat everything from insects to various fruits, nectar, fish, frogs, birds, and lizards.

Another myth is that bats get tangled in or will make nests in your hair. The origin of this myth is unknown, but personally, this reporter can recall seeing this scenario played out in old movies, so perhaps it can be blamed on Hollywood. In any case, many people seem to believe it. Firstly, bats don’t make nests, and they certainly wouldn’t want to be tangled up in hair. Bats are very maneuverable; they can fly pretty quickly through complex spaces like forests, so they can easily avoid people.

It is not a myth, however, that bats can have rabies. Although less than 1% of bats have the disease, there is potential to contract rabies from a bat bite. It is, therefore, never advisable to touch a bat with your bare hands. If a bat has to be moved, it’s best to wear thick leather gloves because although they aren’t a typically biting animal, they may do so if they feel threatened or are handled aggressively, and a bite from a bat is not always easy to feel or spot due to the size of their teeth. It is important to note that people cannot contract rabies just from seeing a bat or coming in contact with bat guano. While people getting rabies from bats is very rare in Canada, it’s always best to appreciate bats from a distance and a bat on the ground is definitely one to be cautious with. Bats do not land on the ground like birds. Bats achieve flight by dropping from their roost not lifting off, so a bat on the ground has either been knocked out of its flight or is sick or injured. If it is at all aggressive or acting strangely, it may be rabid and appropriate steps should be taken otherwise carefully trapping it in a box and releasing it on a branch of a tree will give an indication whether it is sick or injured. A healthy bat once it reorients itself should fly away, a sick or injured one will remain attached to the tree.

Once the researchers identify where the bats are roosting, they are better positioned to track WNS and find ways to conserve these bats. If you know of a colony of bats, they’d love to hear about it. People can fill out a Google form at qrco.de/bats or email the team at bats.sasl@gmail.com. If you know there are bats on a property you own the biologists in this study would love to hear from you.

By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 18, 2023 at 16:25

This item reprinted with permission from   Wakaw Recorder   Wakaw, Saskatchewan
Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated