Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series with amazing facts about bats.
It’s bat season in British Columbia. They returned to British Columbia or left their hibernacula to search for insects. Most women have babies now.
There are more than 1,400 known species of bats in the world (most in tropical and subtropical areas) living on every continent (except Antarctica) in all types of habitats, from desert to forest. That’s about a quarter of all mammalian species.
The largest fruit bats (also called flying foxes) in Asia, Africa and Australia are the size of a cat with a wingspan of two meters. The smallest mammal in the world is Thailand’s rare bumblebee bat, which weighs about a penny.
Our BC bats are all insectivores and some of the smallest bats in the world. Most of these bats fit in the palm of your hand and weigh around seven dollars. They use echolocation to find and catch flying insects and sometimes glean other invertebrates like spiders, scorpions, centipedes, etc. The little brown myotis is the most common and well-studied urban bat in British Columbia.
Bats are the only group of flying mammals and are strictly nocturnal foraging at night.
Their order name chiroptera means hand-wing.
Their amazingly strong wings are made of thin, double-layered membranes of durable skin stretched from their arms, hands, and fingers stretched over their legs and down to their tails. They can hover, fly fast, and maneuver remarkably. A clawed thumb, at the top of each wing, helps bats climb trees, cliffs, walls, etc. supports flight and capture of flying prey and hatchlings.
In flight, bats emit several rapid, high-frequency ultrasonic echolocation pulses to zero in on insects and navigate at night. The waves strike the insect and send back an echo. They quicken their pulse as they approach their prey. To understand this, hold your hand a few inches from your mouth and say “P”. You can feel the pulse of the air, but you cannot hear the echo.
The large ears of bats help to hear sounds such as the echoes of their pulses, the flapping of moths’ wings, the movement of insects in the air or on vegetation, and other bats. So how do bats catch flying insects when their hands are wings? They quickly pick them up with their tail membrane or a wing in their mouth, bite, and then quickly chew. Sometimes it knocks them down a bit.
Like bears, in our temperate climate, bats can hibernate for more than seven months if left undisturbed. Their normal body temperature of 38°C can drop to a few degrees above zero. They wake up several times during hibernation to stretch and move, but can starve to death if they are woken too often during the winter, causing them to lose insulating fat before spring. Their brown body fat keeps them from freezing and they use it to warm up their bodies in about 30 minutes.
Adult females over a year old mate in the fall and store sperm in their uterus during hibernation, then fly to maternity colonies with other females in the spring. Gestation is 7 to 10 weeks. Most of our bats give birth in June or July to a single young.
Baby bats are born helpless, hairless and blind, but they are large – about 30% the size of their mothers, and they grow rapidly. Mom breastfeeds her baby who holds on while she perches. No dad is there. There is a huge mortality rate among weanlings, which makes bats very vulnerable to extinction. The use of insecticides is particularly harmful to bats.
You can watch the bats in action and take part in the provincial count at two local events this week. Allan Brooks Nature Center is hosting a limited bat workshop and counts Thursday, 7-10 p.m., register at abnc.ca. Fintry Provincial Park is also hosting a bat count on Saturday, June 11, 8-10:15 p.m., contact [email protected]
Or if you have bats on your property, count them and call 1-855-922-2287 or visit bcbats.ca.
Participants help count the bats as they fly off their night roosts to hunt for insects. The data collected is used for bat conservation.
Part 2 with amazing bat facts is coming soon.
Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers discover and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook.
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