Thirteen spooky facts about Canadian bats

Big brown bat <i>(Eptesicus fuscus)</i> (Photo by Brock Fenton)

Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) (Photo by Brock Fenton)

October 30, 2015 | by Raechel Bonomo | 3 Comments

There are 19 known bat species in Canada. Although they are subjected to a spooky stigma around Halloween, they’re nothing to be afraid of.

 Here are 13 things you didn’t know about this not-so-scary mammal:

1.  The snooze button. While hibernating, bats do not feed or drink, and their body temperature and metabolic rates decrease markedly. This energy-efficient state allows them to sleep away the long northern winters.

2. Hanging out. Most bats love to hang (literally) in abandoned mines when trying to beat the summer heat or when seeking a spot to hide during winter. These hibernacula, or hibernation roosts, are essential for bat populations and are often destroyed or disturbed by humans and other species.

3. Fantastic Mr. Bat. There are more than 1,000 species of bats in the world. The largest species is the Pteropus bat, also known as flying foxes or fruit bats.

Tricolored bat with white-nose syndrome (Photo by USFWS)

Tricolored bat with white-nose syndrome (Photo by USFWS)

4.  Dead ringer. White-nose Syndrome is an alarming and mysterious disease affecting bat populations throughout North America, including Canada. In New Brunswick, it's estimated about 99 percent of little brown bats have died. In Nova Scotia, the syndrome has spread to Cape Breton.

There is currently no cure or containment for the syndrome. Without one, it is expected that the entire Canadian population of bats will be affected within 12 to 18 years, according to Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative.

5. Of bats and men. Many people believe bats are rodents, but in fact bats are more closely related to primates and humans than rats or mice. They are very clean animals. Very few contract rabies and even then, the risk of contracting rabies from a bat is extremely low.

6. No Dracula sightings here. Despite the spooky tales, most bats do not drink blood — especially the species found in Canada. Only three species in the world are known to drink (animal) blood. Bats in Canada will eat bugs — mainly night-flying insects, as bats are typically nocturnal and forge when the sun is down. 

Little brown myotis (Photo by Brock Fenton)

Little brown myotis (Photo by Brock Fenton)

7. What's the buzz? Bats are known to be good indicators of population control and ecosystem health. They help maintain insect populations in areas across Canada. Mosquitoes are a favourite bat snack. A single little brown bat can eat up to 600 of these blood-suckers in one hour!

8. Visionaries. If you’re blind as a bat then you’re not blind at all! Contrary to popular belief, bats can see and some even rely on sight completely when hunting and flying. Nevertheless, most species of bat will find their way in the dark by emitting ultrasonic pulses of sound at objects and listen for echoes.

9. Right-wingers. The bones of a bat’s hand are elongated to support the thin double membrane of skin, which forms the wings. The scientific name for the group, Chiroptera, means "hand-wing." In most cases, there is also a membrane between the hind legs and the tail.

The membranes are also used to collect insects before they are eaten and to catch the newborn bats at birth. Some bats use their wings as raincoats, while others use them as blankets. 

Hoary bat <i>(Lasiurus cinereus)</i> (Photo by Brock Fenton)

Hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) (Photo by Brock Fenton)

10.What’s up (side-down)? Bats sleep upside down for very long periods, days or weeks, without falling down. They use a special locking mechanism in their ankles that keeps their toes curled and bodies secured. It is similar to the mechanism in a horse’s knee that lets it sleep while standing up. Since it is far more energy efficient to go down than to go up, bats use gravity to start their flight. They simply uncurl the toes on their back legs, open their wings as they drop towards the ground, and start to fly.

11. Bat or solar panel?  Bats sleep during the day and are active at night. By sleeping through the long hot summer days, bats conserve energy and also avoid competition with birds that eat insects during the day. Rather than maintain a steady body temperature like most other warm-blooded animals, bats can withstand a wide range of body temperatures. This allows them to take advantage of solar heat energy on warm days, while on cold days their body temperature drops to conserve energy.

12. Old man bat: Bats are known to live a long time in the wild, some surviving more than 30 years. Nonetheless, as with many mammal species, most bats die in their first or second year of life.

13. Shining the bat signal: NCC has more than 100 properties across Canada, many of which are home to bats. Chase Woods in Duncan, BC is a hotspot for these flying mammals and is known to have at least three or four bat species on the property.

NCC occasionally hosts bat-spotting events, where a bat detector is used to translate bats’ high-frequency echolocating calls so they can be heard by Conservation Volunteers and recorded for population surveys.

NCC is doing its part to protect bat habitats such as abandoned caves and helped secure the entrance of Queen Victoria Mine near Nelson, BC to protect the bats from curious intruders.

About the Author

Raechel Bonomo is the editorial coordinator at the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Read more about Raechel Bonomo.

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