Saturday, January 15, 2011

Batty for Bugs...or...Buggy for Bats

 Bats are mammals, and certainly not an arthropod, but I figured since they feed on numerous insects it would be okay to feature a couple of bats that came into my possession this past week. They have long been one of my favorite creatures. I've put up bat houses to encourage them to take up residence on our farm. So far they have not used the houses, but I do see bats feeding on the insects at the pole lights.

This face that only a mother could love belongs to an Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis) and it showed up in a persons house in St. Joseph. Animal Control was called and rescued the bat. I received a phone call asking me if I would take it and find a safe place to release it. It is very difficult in the winter to rescue these little guys. Releasing them outside is obviously out of the question and not just any location will meet their requirements. The area must be cold in order to encourage hibernation, yet not too cold to freeze them to death. It cannot be too warm or it will encourage them to awaken and fly around. This activity will cause them to use up valuable fat stores and may result in them being unable to survive the rest of the winter. Fortunately on our farm we have such a location in the form of an old farrowing house. It is a large building with a peaked ceiling. We have a small amount of heat in the building to keep water lines from freezing. You can still see your breathe in the building. So I captured a few quick images of this little beauty and then quickly placed it in the farrowing house.

Evening bats are very common in the Southern half of the United States, and are often found with Big Brown Bats and Brazilian Free-Tail Bats. They very much resemble Big Brown Bats and are often mistaken for them. Evening Bats are smaller, uniformly dark brown in color, and have black ears, wings and tail membrane. Their nose lacks fur. They measure up to 3.5 inches in length and have a wingspan up to 11 inches. They weigh up to 1/2 ounce.  In the northern part of their range they are less common and will migrate to hibernation locations. Sometimes they travel great distances to reach these winter roosting sights. In Missouri they seem to use attics and other locations to spend the winter.This species is often seen roosting in towns and rural areas. Males will form harems and defend their females from other male Evening Bats. Females give birth to one or two pups. Occasionally three pups may be born. They seem to suffer separation anxiety from their mothers and are very vocal when their mothers are out of their sight. The young are ready to leave and fly at 20 days. In autumn the young males are cast out of the colony and may show up in odd places like the eaves of houses or outdoor stairwells.

 Large colonies (up to several hundred individuals) will be found roosting together in old buildings. Smaller colonies (up to 40 individuals) will roost under the loose bark of trees where they squeeze close together to accommodate the tight quarters. In early spring they come out of hibernation and begin foraging for insects early of an evening. They feed on beetles, leafhoppers, flies, moths and ants. Evening Bats are important predators of the Spotted Cucumber Beetle, making them a friend to farmers and gardeners alike. These particular bats often find themselves prey to feral cats and many are sacrificed to hungry wild kitties all over the southern states.

This tiny little bat is a Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus). This species is a member of the "Mouse Eared Bats (myotis) and were at one time the most common bat found in their range. There are reports however that claim their numbers are declining and they are becoming more difficult to find in the populations that they previously occurred. No one seems to know how or why this is. Is it a disease? Are they victims of predation? Is it loss of habitat and suitable roosting sights? Hopefully research will bring about the answers before their numbers fall too dramatically. This one too showed up in a persons house and needed rescuing. The gentleman at Animal Control wanted to know why bats were suddenly showing up in peoples homes, especially now during the coldest spell we've had so far this winter. I told him it could be one of several reasons. First being the actual cold that should keep them sleeping. It seems that at 30 degrees or warmer they rest contentedly. When the temperature drops another 30 degrees like it has this past week they become aggitated and begin  looking for warmer environs. This often leads to them finding their way into the living quarters of whatever dwelling they are roosting in. Second reason could be a disturbance of some kind. Perhaps loud noises or unusual activity awoke them and roused them out of their winters sleep. This too would result in them flying around and becoming disoriented and ending up in your house. Too many disturbances is dangerous for them. It is imperative they return to slumber quickly and with as little fuss as possible.

The Little Brown Bat species is very small at 2.4 -4.0 inches in length and a wingspan up to 11 inches. They weigh a mere 1/2 ounce. They have shiny pale brown to dark brown fur. Their coat is evenly covered, and the hairs on their toes extend to cover the toenails. This is a long lived species and may live up to 34 years, with males living longer than females.

Little Brown Bats roost in hot attics during the summer in colonies they may number up to 1,000 members. They will roost in bat houses and other man made structures in smaller numbers. They will even use dead or decaying trees as roosts. Their roosts will generally be located near water. They mate in the fall and the females will store sperm until the following spring. This ability to delay fertilization assures the pups won't be born while the mothers are hibernating.  The female will give birth to one pup sometime in May, June or July. They are born furless, and with their eyes closed. They will rest under their mothers wings during the day, then at night the mothers leave them in the roost so they can go out and forage for insects. They typically eat mayflies, crane flies, moths, gnats and beetles. They are capable of eating their entire body weight in insects in a single night.  Most hunting grounds are located near water, like ponds. They capture several hundred mosquito sized insects in a single hour. Pups are able to fly at 2 weeks of age, and will be adult sized in approximately 20 days. When fall returns they will seek their winter hibernation spots that may contain up to 300,000 individuals.

There are fourteen species of bats living in Missouri and each of them are insect eaters. We do not have vampire bats or fruit bats in Missouri. Therefore all Missouri bats are helpful to us by controlling insect populations. It has often been said that they eat thousands of mosquitoes in a single evening. While it is true that they are capable of eating mosquitoes, they however prefer larger prey insects like moths. The larger the insect the more energy and calories gained. It is kind of like showing up at a buffet and choosing to eat a salad. Does any of us really do that? Nah, of course not.....

 Bats do however carry rabies, and this is a very real threat. Approximately 40 cases are reported annually in Missouri of bats that test positive for rabies. Considering there are millions of bats living in Missouri this is a relatively low number. There are about 1/2 of 1 percent of bats that carry the virus. Bites typically occur when people find a bat out during the day and handle the bat, or they handle one that mistakenly makes its way into your home. Never under any circumstances handle a bat that is out during daylight hours, instead call your local Animal Control Center. If one makes it into your home, use caution and never try to handle one without sufficient gloves. It is best to call Animal Control.

Our local Animal Control has me on their call list to take bats for release and rehab. I have completed training through a licensed Wildlife rehabilitation Center and have my name listed with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

There is no reason to live in fear of bats, they are one of the cleanest animals in existence. They spend a huge amount of time grooming themselves. The chance of rabies infection is low, and they provide valuable insect control. Lastly they are just plain cool!!!!


  1. I enjoy watching them in action. There is a bridge in Austin,TX on Congress St. that houses a huge colony of Mexican bats.The town was built on a swamp so they helped remedy the skeets.

  2. Bats are awesome, and considering how much they know about insects/inverts, perhaps this is akin to a guest post? An interview with an expert? SO glad you decided to share re: bats. Love them. =)

  3. I love watching bats too Steve. They are incredible creatures. We have a few each summer that swoop and dive at our poles lights. They also dive right above my head at the mercury vapor light and white sheet that I have out to attract insects. Sometimes they get quite close as the dive in for the bugs hovering around my head. I heard about the cave (Bracken Cave) in San Antonio that is home to millions of Mexican Free-tail bats. I've wanted to come see their nightly flight out of the cave for years. I am a member of Bat Con and I think you have to be a member to be able to visit Bracken Cave. One day perhaps I will make it there. In the meantime I will just have to settle for reading about them and rescuing a few strays once in awhile

  4. LOL Bio,how appropriate...a guest it!
    I love bats almost as much as I love insects. I simply can't get enough of them! I just wish they would move into my bat houses!!!!

  5. Once again your post is so informative and entertaining. The pictures are wonderfully up close and give a good view of what bats look like.

  6. I love bats. LOVE them!!! Great post, Shelly!

  7. Thanks Emma for your kind comments. These little guys are sure remarkable.

  8. I am with you Geek, I love them too. They are incredible creatures. Thanks so much for visiting.

  9. Here in the paper today, I read of a local couple who sued the people who sold them their $1,150,000 house and failed to tell them they had a bat problem. To wit, thousands of bats in their attic. Nowhere in the article does anyone refer to this as a blessing. At the very least, it seems to me that many bats would keep their heating bill down. People.

  10. WOW, people will sue for any reason won't they? All that needed to be done was wait for the bats to leave then seal up the entrance hole(s). I guess not everyone thinks that bats are a blessing and I believe that is unfortunate...and I love your positive spin on.....Yes indeed you would think that many bats should help with heating costs, but sadly that won't be the case. This time of year while bats are hibernating their body temperature is a mere degree or two above the outside temperature. Of course I'm not sure what it would do to cooling costs in the summer...LOL I for one would be thrilled if bats moved into my attic. Then again my husbands thinks I have bats in my belfry. Thanks for stopping by Murr, hope to you around here again.

  11. Very Good Blog Indeed! Very Much Enjoyed Reading It! I Too Live In The St Joseph Area And Make My Living From Bat Proofing Homes Like You've Suggested. I'm Jason Jenkins From All Friendly Mole Control & Pest Services( I'll Be Sure To Send You Some Calls For Rescue Work... Thanks Again For The Great Post You Did A Great Job!

  12. Thanks Jason, I don't normally post comments that offer up links to their website, but in this case I was happy to make an exception. I visited your website and like that you include exclusion rather than execution. Sometimes the simplest solution to a pest problem is to figure out how to keep them out, rather than killing them. That being said, I also realize sometimes there is no other option but to eradicate the vermin that is tearing up your yard and home....but I like that that isn't your first choice. Keep up the good work!

  13. Hello! I am sincerely hoping this blog is still active. I have a Brown Bat in my basement. I am pretty sure he might die, though, without his colony. I do not want to call a "pest" service, as I don't want him injured, killed, poisoned, or removed in an unsafe manner. Do you have any suggestions as to whom I can contact in Kansas for safe catch and release? Thank you!

    1. Hello there, yes this blog is still active...sorta. I've been terribly lax in writing as of late. Thank you for stopping by and for your concern for the Brown Bat in your basement. Is there any way you can remove the bat? If you put on heavy leather gloves and just take him outside and let him go he should reunite with his colony. Pest control services are not legally allowed to kill or injure bats, but contacting one will cost you quite a bit of money. Right now females are getting ready to begin having babies so colonies have to be left alone until the end of July or first of August when baby bats are weaned. Honestly, if you contact animal control or a pest agency they will just gather the bat up with a net or leather gloves on and take it outside.