Part 2 of 2

As mentioned in last week’s column, bats across the globe have an undeserved reputation. The little brown bat that inhabits this part of the world is only one of the 2,000 kinds of bats out there. They rest can vary in size from two inches in length to the large fruit-eating bats of the Andes, which have a wing span of four feet. 

Our little brown bat (which helps humans out by eating a diet of insects), found throughout North America, came along 95,000,000 years after the bird family and 10,000,000 years after the flying dinosaur. I would have assumed bats predated both and also had a connection to one or the other, but apparently not. What surprised me most in considering evolution though, is that its closest resemblance is to the ape. Think about the head and the placement of the teeth! So is there any credence to the idea that bats and apes (and therefore human) are connected? Personally, I know a few people I consider rather batty, though, unlike humans, the bat uses echolocation to catch insects for dinner. Bats do this by projecting a squeak wave that bounces off the flying insect, back to the bat, which uses this feedback to catch the bug. Or bugs, as the bats in our part of the world eat half their weight in insects each night. 

Most people consider the bat to be a lousy, dirty, infected creature. In reality, I was amazed, while working on a bat project during my time as a conservation officer in Ontario, to discover that bats may even be cleaner than humans! I have watched bats clean themselves for over an hour, meticulously going over each hair on their bodies. I even got to look at bats under microscopes and never saw signs of insects on them. 

Equally amazing is the little brown bat’s ability to twist and turn while in flight. They do it better than any birds, though nature can be tough on the bat, with unfavourable weather being one of the biggest contributors to the bat’s short life span. Hail, hard rain, snow and temperature ranges limit the lifespan of the bat. During the winter, the bat will go into a deep sleep and may only breathe once every five minutes. Should it wake due to hunger during this time, there are no insects to eat. 

Of course, we pose a threat as well. The introduction of wind mills along the eastern shores of North America has almost eliminated the bat from that part of America. Bats fly into the wind turbulence behind the windmills while trying to catch flying insects. This can cause the thin wing membranes of the bat to be badly damaged.

Hardly how we should treat the creature that controls so many of our most pesky insects. I might suggest we build some simple bat houses. Secure a piece of carpet, or really rip up the wood to line the bat box so bats can get a good hold while hanging upside down in their rest period. Bat houses should be placed at least 10 feet off the ground on the back of a garage or building.

One final point on the rabies found in bats. Bats do clean themselves with their wet tongues. It’s possible that the rabies can then be on the fur of the bat. If you ever get bitten by a bat (not too likely unless you are bothering their young), get immediate attention by your doctor or hospital. Same goes for other animals though. Rabies has been found in many wild animals. If you see an animal, especially raccoons or fox, acting very strangely, stumbling along, or biting at any objects, avoid the animal and immediately call conservation. Do not approach the animal, nor touch it if you find it dead.