I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bats - Insect Eating Machines

I find that when you bring up the topic of bats the emotions evoked in most people often range from fear to mild disgust, to complete disinterest.  In my life thus far I have had limited experience with bats.  The information I received during childhood consisted of spooky cartoons that show a bat turning into a bloodsucking vampire, or the main characters entering a dark space and the bats flying out en masse resulting in panic, screaming and wild arm flailing.  As I got older the cartoons gave way to stories of bats becoming tangled in long hair, or of bats being carriers of rabies.

Over the last few years I have seen several nature documentaries that included information about bats, I have read various articles, and occasionally one of my kids will bring home a childrens story, or non fiction book on the subject.  As with most subjects in life, a little education can dispel most, if not all, of the myths and now I find the subject of bats quite interesting.  A couple of times while camping I have seen bats flying overhead and on one occasion last year I had my closest encounter yet.  My husband and I, along with some friends, were at Lake Cowichan and took the opportunity of a lack of city lights to do some star gazing.  While lying on our backs on the dock, staring at the sky, I felt the quick passing of an animal near my head and upper torso.  I am going to assume that it was a bat since there are not any other animals I am aware of that enjoy night flights.  The bat did not actually touch me and it was probably gone in less than a second.  I did not feel scared in the least, on the contrary I count it as a very cool experience, and I should probably say thanks because it likely scooped up a few mosquitos that would have otherwise bit my neck or face.

In order to write this post I went looking on google, as usual, and came across a website done by EcoLogic Research.  On their Bat Biology page I learned that there are two main groups of bats in the world.  One consists of larger, fruit and nectar-eating bats (Megachiroptera), the other consists of the smaller insect-eating bats (Microchiroptera).  All of the bats that reside in Canada are of the Microchiroptera group and eat insects.  British Columbia is home to the most diverse bat population in Canada including 16 species of bats.  Two of the most common species are the Little Brown Bat and Yuma Myotis.  The picture below is of a Little Brown Bat and I found it on the following blog http://bahbs.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/going-batty/.

Little Brown Bat

I also found a great link to a BC Ministry of Environment page that has a bat brochure.  It includes a lot of useful information including how to keep bats out of your home, how to remove them safely, or how to encourage them.  Rather than be fearful of bats I would suggest you take a few minutes to educate yourself about the benefits of having them around.  One little bat can eat up to 600 insects in an hour including moths, crickets, mosquitos, beetles, grasshoppers and flies.  Contrary to what you may have heard, the risk of rabies from bats, while present, is relatively low.  It is true that bats are the only known carrier of rabies in British Columbia, however the level of infection is approximately 0.5% to 1% depending on which website you look at.  According to the BC Centre for Disease Control the two most recent human cases of rabies in British Columbia (both fatal and linked to bats) were in 1985 and 2003.  This low risk, of course, does not mean that you should be going out and snuggling bats.  As with any wild animal a level of caution and respect would be prudent.

My opinion of bats has changed drastically over the years and I no longer regard them with any kind of fear.  I love watching swallows flying low to the ground at the ball fields, banking left and right as they cruise around, and I have come to think of bats as nighttime swallows.  Sleek, little, bug-eating machines with precision flying skills.  A couple of weeks ago my daughter built a bat house with my father-in-law.  Well, my father-in-law built the bat house while my daughter flitted back and forth between other pursuits, like tree climbing and television watching, to see how the project was coming along.  We have got it all painted up and now I just have to figure out where to hang it.  I might be too late this season to have a resident bat, but I figure I will put it up anyways and hope to have one next year.  If you are interested in building a bat house there are no shortage of resources for you to utilize.  This is not the pattern that I used, but I found a couple of interesting designs and some Canada-specific instructions on this Canadian Wildlife Federation link.  I actually picked up some additional pointers and will have to tweak our bat house before putting it up.

Our bat house

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