By Jen Mannas, Wildlife Naturalist
April 17 is National Bat Appreciation Day so here at PAWS we are celebrating all things bats.
Bats are in the Chiroptera family which includes about 1,240 species around the world; 40 of which are found in North America. The Pacific Northwest is home to 14 species, of which the Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) is the most common (below). Bat species feed on a variety of things from nectar to insects to mammalian blood. All the species living in Washington are insectivores meaning they feed only on insects.
Because bats are active at night, insectivorous bats eat predominately mosquitoes, nocturnal beetles and moths. They are considered extremely important for pest control. A single bat for example can consume up to 2,000 mosquitoes in one night.
Some species of bats are pollinators much like bees and hummingbirds. In fact, they are very important pollinators in tropical and desert climates for plants whose flowers open at night. Bats feed on the insects living in the flowers as well as the nectar, and over 300 species of fruit depend on bats as pollinators including mangoes, bananas and guava.
PAWS Wildlife Center is no stranger to bats. On average, we receive about 50 bats a year; some of them are babies who fell from their nursery colony, some are brought in for rabies testing if there is a chance of human contact, and others are sick or injured and need care.
Bats roost in rock crevices, tree hollows, mines, caves and a variety of anthropogenic, or human, structures. In our area, they do not roost in large colonies like they do in the eastern North America where there can be thousands of bats in a single cave.
Bats in eastern North America are seeing large population declines because of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) which is a devastating disease caused by a fungus that grows on the wings and muzzles of hibernating bats causing them to come out of hibernation early. The disease was first seen in New York in 2006 and has since spread to 30 states and 5 Canadian providences killing an estimated 6 million bats.
In 2016 Washington joined the list of states affected with WNS when a Little Brown Bat (below) was brought to PAWS Wildlife Center and died in care. It was confirmed that he did indeed have WNS. Since then the state and federal agencies along with wildlife rehabilitation centers in the area are being very vigilent, monitoring bats that come in for care as well as bats in the wild to document any more cases. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking anyone who comes across a sick or dead bat or find a group of bats to report it to them. Information about that can be found here.
If you want to attract these critters to your yard, there is a simple way to do so; by building them a bat box. Since bats are nocturnal they need a safe place to roost during the day. With deforestation and the spread of urban areas, they are losing their habitat so it is more important then ever to provide safe roosting structures. You can purchase a premade bat box from several places online or you can build your own. Here at PAWS Wildlife Center we will be building and installing our very own bat box in the new PAWS wildlife garden space. The best time to hang them is in mid April when bats are starting to come out of hibernation and looking for new roosting areas and places to raise their young.
For bat house building resources and ideas be sure to check these sites out:
Watch this report from PBS Newshour about white nose syndrome and it's discovery in Washington:
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