Species of the Month, May 2021: Bats
by Mary Gartshore
Bats are the only mammal species that can fly.
According to the fossil record, bats have been capable of flight for about 52 million years. Bats belong to the mammalian order Chiroptera with over 1400 recognized species – the second-largest mammalian order next to rodents. Most are insectivores, but others fish, drink blood or are carnivores. Bats may be nectar or fruit feeders important for pollination and seed dispersal. There are nine species of bats in Ontario including Eastern Red Bat, Hoary Bat, Silver-haired Bat, Little Brown Myotis, Northern Long-eared Myotis, Small-footed Myotis, Tricoloured Bat, Big Brown Bat and a single old record of Evening Bat. All of these are insectivores.
Our bats are mostly nocturnal and navigate using echolocation – high-pitched chirps that bounce off objects and are heard by the bat’s specialized ears. They also detect prey by echolocation. Certain moths have evolved ears to recognize approaching bats and take evasive action. You can try a simple experiment in your backyard. Choose a warm night near a light source and take a wine glass and moisten the rim and run your finger around the rim to produce ultra-sonic sound. Moths with ears may fold their wings and drop to the ground. An interesting way to liven up a late-night barbecue!
In Ontario, White Nose Syndrome has infected bats that hibernate in caves such as Little Brown Myotis. It is a fungal disease accidentally introduced from Europe. It is estimated that eight million bats have died amounting to 1100 metric tons of insect pests that have not been consumed, insects that may have reduced farm revenue in the eastern US by an estimated $3 billion. One of our nature reserves has a nursery colony of Little Brown Myotis that has increased from 27 in 2010 to 127 in 2020.
This year we plan to carry out bat surveys in our nature reserves – please sign up here if you’re interested in volunteering with us.