Change Your Bat-titude
Bats are the best. They can gobble up half their body weight in insects every night. That's like a 60-kilogram person bolting down 30 kilograms of food in a single day. Some bats can devour 600 insects in an hour. How's that for pest control! You can help bats in many ways.
- Provide plants that bloom both day and night to please moths and other pollinating insects. Besides boosting habitat, they may bring hungry bats swooping by. Choose fireweed, snowberry, wild sweet-William, Canada goldenrod, cardinal flower, and bitter cress.
- If you have an anti-bug light in your yard, get rid of it. Install a regular light instead to attract insects for bats to munch.
- Build a bat house using these plans.
- Bats sometimes roost behind window shutters. Try hanging some on your house, shed, or garage.
- Never disturb snoozing bats. Stay away from caves and mines where bats roost.
- Learn all you can about bats and educate others about their importance. Organize a "Be Kind to Bats Day" at school. Distribute bat fact-sheets in your community, including suggestions on how to help these crafty creatures.
- Got any batty questions? Visit the website of Bat Conservation International (BCI).
Pamper a Pallid Bat
The pallid bat is particularly pernickety about its habitat. One of the rarest mammals in British Columbia, it favours dry, desert-like terrain, often near water and rocky outcrops. Ponderosa pines, steep cliffs, tree cavities, buildings, caves, and mines are preferred roosting spots.
A gung-ho pest controller, the pallid bat dines on some insect species considered agricultural menaces, such as the ten-lined June beetle and various crickets, grasshoppers, moths, and caterpillars. A nursing female may gulp down more than her body weight in a single night! Unlike most other North American bats, the species flies slowly, within a few metres of the ground, where it grabs large, ground-dwelling or slow flying insects. It listens for sounds made by its prey and has such keen hearing that it can detect a scorpion's footsteps. It can also track higher-flying insects using its eyes and echolocation — a kind of bat "radar."
Pallid bat numbers have probably always been low in Canada. Severe habitat loss has made matters worse. Pesticides sprayed on fruit orchards also harm the species, while activities, like logging, hiking, and rock climbing, may scare the bat permanently away from its roosts.
Mind a Mine
Most of Canada’s bat species rely on caves and abandoned mines to hibernate. Humans exploring these habitats can be a life-threatening problem for bats. Each time a hibernating bat is wakened, it burns from 10 to 60 days' worth of fat reserves. The creature may not have enough energy left to survive until spring.
An even greater threat occurs when abandoned mines are sealed up for the sake of human safety. In 1991, more than 1,000 hibernating northern long-eared bats were accidentally trapped in an abandoned, sealed mine near Sherbrooke, Quebec. Biologists raised a public outcry, forcing the government to allow a bat grill to be installed. This narrow opening enabled bats to zip in and out of the mine undisturbed, while excluding vandals and curious humans. Hundreds of custom-made bat grills are now in use in Canada and the United States, saving countless bat lives.
Here's how you can help conserve these important bat habitats:
- Never explore caves or mines without permission from conservation authorities.
- Inform your community about the value of bats and the threats these mammals face. Urge friends, classmates, and neighbours to stay out of caves and abandoned mines. Many people have no idea how critical these habitats are to bats.
- Ask natural resources staff, bat biologists, and other knowledgeable people if there are caves or abandoned mines in your area. Are they used by bats?
- If your research turns up a hibernation hot spot, find out if it’s likely to be explored by curious humans. If it's a mine, is it slated to be sealed? If the habitat is threatened, sound the alarm. Organize a campaign to have the cave or mine furnished with a bat grill.
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