I have spent my summer and most of the fall on nightly adventures
chasing and eating many wonderful bugs. I slept during the day with
my mom and the rest of our colony in our summer cave. Some of my red
cousins spent the summer in trees. But as the night became cooler
and the moths disappeared into their cocoons, we left to find a place
for our winter sleep. I would like to tell everybody my story but
I am too sleepy . . . and it takes so much energy to wake up. So maybe
my friend Maggie will tell you about me.
See you next spring,
Little Brown Bat
P.S. Oh yea, I’m supposed to tell you that I’m not blind,
and I certainly don’t want to mingle with your hair!
Maggie’s Bat Tales
I grew up living near the Mississippi River and
taking bats for granted. I don’t remember being afraid of them
-- or even particularly aware of them. Bats were just part of the
scenery around here. I thought of them as some type of flying mouse.
It was in college that the subject of bats came across
my radar screen. My biology professor had done field studies on various
animals, including the endangered Indiana Bat. During his study of
a bat population, he and his colleagues often had to crawl through
spaces where the bats were residing, and he reported that although
the bats would be flying around, they never even grazed their human
This professor had developed a respect and a fondness for bats,
and he shared these with us. He showed slide programs of various bat
species and even brought live bats into the classroom. The more I
learned about bats, the more interesting and endearing I found them
Bats are mammals, so they have fur, give birth to live young (usually
one) and nurse their young. There is great variety of size, appearance
and diet within the order, called chiroptera (hand-wing).
Bats have many unique adaptations. For instance, though some squirrels
glide, the bat is the only mammal that truly flies. Bats’ wings
consist of bones that mimic the bones in a human arm and hand and
are covered by a thin membrane.
Another amazing adaptation for most bats is echolocation, which
they use to navigate and locate food. To echolocate, a bat sends out
high-pitched noises that bounce off objects. “Reading”
the echoes enables the bats to determine distance and size of the
Bat activities provide enormous ecological benefits, including insect
control, pollination of wild fruit crop strains and seed dispersal.
In fact, eighty percent of tropical rain forest pollination and seed
dispersal is done by bats.
They Fly By Night
Except for some of the fruit bats, bats are nocturnal. In our area,
bats fill the nighttime niche birds occupy during the day, eating
insect pests that would otherwise bother us and our crops. Yet while
they protect us, we don’t always protect them — both birds
and bats are harmed by pesticides.
There are approximately 900 species of bats, and they’re found
on every continent except Antarctica. Bats inhabit every type of habitat
and have adapted accordingly.
“Megabats” are the fruit-eating bats, but there are more
kinds of what are called “microbats.” There are long-eared
bats, spotted bats, bats that eat pollen and nectar, and bats that
eat frogs, fish or scorpions.
Locally, our most common bats include the big brown bat, the little
brown bat, and the red bat. The evening bat, the hoary bat and the
silver-haired bat are also found here. The little brown bat’s
habitat usually lives near rivers and streams, whereas the big brown
bat prefers farmland and is considered the farmer’s friend.
Red and hoary bats reside in trees under bark or “hang around”
and blend in with the leaves. As for size, the little brown bat has
a wingspan of 9-10 inches, but its body is only about 2 inches, head
to toe. The big brown bat’s body length is 3-5 inches and is
has a wingspan of 13-14 inches.
Researchers and rehabilitators who work with bats indicate bats are
intelligent, gentle and personable. Merlin Tuttle, the founder of
Bat Conservation International, has taken some amazing photos using
a technique that wouldn’t be possible with most wild animals.
He mist-nets a bat and gives it on-the-spot training with food until
he can photograph and then release it.
But don’t try this at home! Tuttle and other researchers have
rabies vaccinations, as well as special licenses to handle bats. Bats,
like most wild animals, are protected by law and should not be handled
-- for their protection and yours.
Like all mammals, bats can contract rabies. They are no more likely
to have it than any other mammal, but it’s never smart to handle
a downed bat. As a protective measure, wear leather gloves when you
move wood piles, just in case you encounter any animal. You should
never approach or handle any wild animal, but if for some reason you
find it necessary to handle a bat, remember that bats are very small,
As for bat encounters with other vulnerable beings -- it’s
always a good idea to vaccinate dogs and cats, and if a bat is discovered
in a room with a sleeping or incapacitated individual, check with
bat organizations for preventive measures.
Generally, when a bat is found inside a house, it is flying around
looking for a way to get out. Accommodate it. It is not necessary
to turn out the lights. Just open a door or window, or remove a screen.
Then stay out of the bat’s way and give it a chance to fly out.
It will use its echolocation to find the exit.
This is a much kinder and smarter way to remove a bat from your
house than killing it, and it can benefit you with great outdoor mosquito
control. It’s estimated that a single bat in Illinois can consume
up to 3,000 insects per night!
Bats in the belfry?
If bats have taken up residence in your attic, there are effective
“exclusion” techniques available from professional exclusion
services. Or check the web sites below to learn how to do it yourself
– but only in the summer after the pups have matured enough
to fly with the adults. And be sure to put up a bat house in advance
of the exclusion to acclimate the bats to other housing.
Bat-life includes many species of endangered and threatened bats,
and even our most common bats are experiencing population losses.
In some cases, vandalism has destroyed whole colonies, but habitat
loss is usually to blame. To preserve bats, we need bat houses, education,
and conservation and creation of natural habitat.
Bats are very vulnerable when they’re hibernating. If you are
aware of a hibernation cave or mine, leave it undisturbed during the
winter, since bats disturbed during hibernation use stored energy
and then may not have enough left to make it through the winter. If
a hibernaculum cannot be protected by location alone, bat organizations
have been known to put gates on caves or mines which keep people out,
but allow bats to come and go. In some cases, old mines serving as
bat habitat but slated for destruction have been saved by conservationists.
So sleep well, Little Brown Bat. See you in the Spring!