Bats! Spooky & Misunderstood
Photo Credit: Daniel Neal
Bats are often mistaken for swallows, particularly around Big Bear Lake around sunset. The San Bernardino Mountains are actually home to 20 different species of bats, which is a stunning amount of diversity, and most are the size of your hand, about 6 inches in height or smaller. Surprisingly, bats are more closely related to humans than rodents. These tiny mammals live to about 30 years-old, and usually only have one baby pup a year! Their signature trait of hanging upside down makes it easy for them to drop into flight, allowing them to flee owls and other predators very quickly. They’re also very social, so much so that different species of bats often roost together and look after one other.
Bats don’t suck your blood, or attack humans, though they’ll likely bite when handled out of self-protection… that’s why it’s important to never handle them, just as you would never handle other wild animals like raccoons. Most bats in America are insectivores, meaning they eat insects! In the San Bernardino Mountains, bats primarily feast on mosquitos and moths. In fact, some bats can eat up to 1000 mosquitos an hour, making them an obvious asset in pest control. They’re also important pollinators, especially for night-flowering agave and cactus. Some plants are even exclusively pollinated by bats, meaning that without them these plants simply couldn’t survive. And these creatures’ remarkable ability to pollinate and disperse seeds make them extremely beneficial in restoring rainforests too. They are vital and powerful assets to our ecosystems.
Here in Big Bear, where we don’t have many caves, many bats roost in the cracks of bark and trees, under bridges, in attics, and in mineshafts. To protect bats, mineshafts and other habitats in the area are gated off from exploration, because disturbing bats during hibernation can kill them, and can even wipe out whole colonies. If a bat wakes up during hibernation, they may starve to death or struggle to survive the winter. Be a friend and let sleeping bats be.
Bats Need Help
Bats are incredibly beneficial to us, and they need help. White nose syndrome, a fungus that thrives in the cold, is killing millions of bats across the country. Pesticides are poisoning bats and reducing their food sources. Many are losing habitat and being disturbed by human activity, or simply being exterminated out of fear. And since bats don’t reproduce quickly, they are particularly vulnerable as a species. Below are some ways you can help!
To Help Bats...
- Install a bat box for shelter. South-facing is best since they like warmth!
- Reduce outdoor light pollution by turning off or dimming unneeded lights at night. Light can disrupt and deter bats from their normal behavior.
- Grow native plants and wildflowers, to provide insects and nectar for them to eat.
- Eliminate or drastically reduce pesticides and herbicides in your gardens, and use organic options when you do. Use plants and seeds that are USDA certified organic, and shop at nurseries that use “Pollinator-Friendly Pest Management.“
- If you’d like to provide water it’ll need to be about 7-10 feet wide by trough or pond, because bats drink while in flight.
- Don’t explore caves and mines in the winter when bats hibernate.
- Keep cats indoors, or at least indoors at night. In the United States, cats kill an estimated 1 billion wild birds every year, and readily kill bats as well.
- If a bat accidentally finds its way into your home, remove them humanely, so they can continue to live a healthy life outdoors.
- Support habitat protection and bat gate projects, which allow bats room to fly into places like caves while keeping people out.
Spread the word that bats are misunderstood and need our support!
Fast Bat Facts!
- Bats live for around 30 years.
- Bats spend about half their life asleep.
- Bat babies are called pups!
- Bats can see just as well as humans.
- They’re important for seed dispersal and pollination.
- If a bat wakes up during hibernation, they can starve to death or struggle to survive the winter.
- Bats are not a public health threat.
- Bats do not pose a larger rabies risk than raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, or many other animals. Bats just have a bad rap.
- Some bats can eat up to 1000 mosquitos an hour!
- Bats can help farmers reduce their need for pesticides.
- Bats are threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, and fear-based extermination by humans.
A Virtual Bat Talk: Batty for Bats with Linda Stamer
Bats are one of the most important misunderstood animals by Courtney Celley
For those of you interested in building your own bat house or condo: The Bat House Builder’s Handbook