Spooky species update
They share our rural and urban habitats and yet to most Canadians they’re invisible and unknown. Under the cover of darkness, bats are busy using echo-locating techniques to catch moths and beetles. And how do we thank them for their innocuous behaviour? We make them a spooky symbol on our most frightening day. Here’s some more information on bats and what we can all do to help the scariest thing about them – their dwindling populations.
There are over 1,200 bat species in the world, with 18 species occurring in Canada. Sadly seven of those species are now listed as ‘at-risk’ in Canada: four species in B.C. (pallid bat, Keen’s long-eared bat, fringed bat and the spotted bat) and three that range widely in Canada that have recently been heavily depleted by the white nose fungus – little brown myotis (little brown bat), northern myotis (northern long-eared bat), and tri-coloured bat.
The main threats to bat species in Canada are: pesticides that reduce their prey populations; habitat loss from logging, fires and land conversion; human disturbance; and the recent inadvertent introduction of white-nose fungus from Europe. The fungus seems to have reduced little brown bat populations in infected hibernacula (or caves) by more than 75 per cent in only a few years.
Spotting bats can prove difficult, due to lower numbers and their nocturnal activity. However, they’re still fairly common in southern and central Canada. While it might be difficult to see one, with the right equipment you can certainly hear them. This summer I attended three fantastic talks at the High Park field station in Toronto that provided plenty of hand-held ‘bat detectors’ for everyone to use. These devices made ultrasonic bat calls audible to the human ear and our group immediately was overwhelmed by the clicking coming from nearby trees as bats fed on moths and beetles.
These events were an excellent introduction to bat behavior and conservation. And they motivated the 100+ attendees to get more involved and help bats.
One of the best things that city and country-folk can do to help bats is to either protect roost sites or help build new potential roost sites. Roosts are critical for bat survival and reproduction. While we might think of large bat caves as the ideal roost location, different bat species roost in many different types of structures, and there are many cracks and cavities in urban settings that can also serve as roosts. However, as people renovate older homes and seal up old gaps, they are also removing potential roosts. To ensure there are enough ‘homes’ for bats in urban areas, it’s a great idea to install built bat boxes – like the three-chamber bat box I’ve installed high up on my chimney stack – or even incorporate bat-friendly design in new buildings.
While bats need large-scale conservation interventions that reduce pesticides and protect their habitat, there are clearly some smaller actions we can take at home. This year for Halloween, instead of vilifying this helpful mammal, why not challenge your friends or kids to do something for the bats? If you have an idea for promoting bat conservation in your community, perhaps by building your own bat boxes, setting up a community-wide monitoring project, or helping protect key winter hibernacula (caves), submit an application during the next round of Go Wild. We’d love to help you help the bats!