Wild bats. They get such a bad rep. Most likely it’s because they’re portrayed in popular culture and the media as scary, blood-sucking, rabid creatures of the night that live in dark, stank places. They are the subjects of creepy, Halloween tales and horror stories. Gosh darn, I think that’s a shame!
As a resource professional, I view bats as a native, beneficial component of our natural world and so should you! In fact, I think they’re cool. No, check that, I think they’re beautiful! Look!
So, here are 10 things you should know about the beautiful, beneficial bats in Nebraska.
1. Bats are related to us, they’re mammals! Some folks refer to bats as “flying mice,” or “unique birds,” or those “giant insects.” But in truth bats, with their ears, soft fur and small needle-like teeth, are more closely related to us as humans than are rodents or birds. Bats are tiny, light-weight mammals, the only flying mammals on earth actually! They are capable of true flight with their wings that have elongated finger bones covered with a thin, rubbery layer of skin.
2. Nebraska has a variety of bats. Did you know that Nebraska has 13 different species of bats? Seven species of bats are at-risk and one, the northern long-eared bat, is threatened. Bats can be found in virtually all habitats in Nebraska, even in urban and suburban environments. Most, however, are uncommon and rarely found near structures. The big brown bat lives throughout the state and is the most frequently encountered bat around homes and buildings. Both the big and little brown bats may be found in groups or colonies.
3. Creatures of the night and critters of the crevice. Bats generally leave their roosts at dusk to hunt and may return several times during the night. Under natural conditions, bats normally live in small, tight crevices under the loose bark of trees, amid foliage, or in hollow cavities, caves, quarries, and cracks of rocky ledges. In urban and suburban locations, crevice-dwelling bats can frequent attics or behind shutters, downspouts, seams of bridges, roof eaves and even go in storm sewers. Bats can be prevented from sharing your abode by caulking or sealing cracks and using hardware cloth or wire-screen mesh to cover vents and gaps. Keep in mind bats can get through an opening as narrow as 1/4 of an inch!
4. Bats eat bugs, and lots of them! Bats play a critical role in Nebraska’s environment greatly assisting in the control of insects. All of the bats found in Nebraska are called insectivores, feeding solely on flying insects such as mosquitoes and moths. Each bat consumes 25 percent to 125 percent of its body weight in insects nightly! Research shows that one little brown bat can eat 600 to 1200 mosquito-sized insects every hour. We should welcome bats as they massively consume more mosquitoes than any bug zapper could “zap.” Also, big brown bats in Nebraska eat agricultural pests such as leafhoppers, June beetles, and stinkbugs. Studies in some areas indicate that bats can reduce agricultural insect pests, such as corn earworms, saving farmers billions of dollars. As you now know the bats in Nebraska are not pollinators, but it should be pointed out that they are pollinators in other parts of the U.S. and world.
5. Bats eat and drink on the move. Bats capture flying insects in the air with their mouths or may scoop them up with their tails while flying. Interestingly, bats drink while in flight by swooping over sources of standing water, whether it’s a farm pond or swimming pool. For wild bat viewing information in Nebraska, see the month of October at this link.
6. Bat guano (excrement) makes for an excellent fertilizer, say what? Yes! Bat guano has been used for years by vegetable and flower gardeners as a wonderful organic fertilizer. It contains nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Bat guano, like bird guano, should be regarded with extreme caution though as it can grow a fungus in hot, humid enclosed environments.
7. Bat myths are just that, bat myths. Bats are not blind, they can see but use echolocation or “sonar” to help them navigate and locate their prey in the dark. Bats will not chew through your siding, your shutters, or your attic vents. They occasionally find their way on or into houses or garages in the early evening when seeking shelter (warmth) or feeding on insects attracted by lights. Keep garage doors and windows/window screens closed. Bats will not intentionally fly into your hair or swoop at you. There may be insects around you they are trying to nab. Additionally, bats simply cannot take off from a flat surface. They need a high point to start and then fall to catch air under their wings to begin flying. Bats are not filthy little animals. They are meticulous about keeping their fur clean and groomed. The smell associated with bats is due to the accumulation of guano and urine below their roosting areas. Bats will not try to eat you alive. Bats will not suck your blood. While it’s true that bats can carry rabies, less than 1/2 of 1 percent of wild bats are actually infected with the disease. Nevertheless, don’t be picking up any bats you might find on the ground or inside a structure! If you must handle the bat, it needs to be done only wearing thick, heavy leather gloves! Like most wildlife when cornered or agitated, bats will attempt to bite in self-defense! There’s also this: If a person wakes up with a bat in a room, it needs to be caught and tested for rabies through the health department. Why? It may not be able to be determined if there was human contact made by the bat.
8. Bats are long-lived species. Some bats have even been documented to have survived for over 30 years! Quite unlike rodents, most bats are only able to produce one to two pups (offspring) each year.
9. The bat faces many threats, numbers have declined, status and research. White-nose syndrome, wind turbines, habitat loss and destruction, deliberate killing, pesticides and climate change are all threats that bats face in this world and their numbers have declined! Get details about the current status of and the latest research on bats by going here.
10. Bat removal, bat conservation and bat houses. I’ll readily admit that it’s unnerving to say the least to discover a bat flying erratically in circles around your dining room or living room. But, if that scenario happens to you (unless you’ve been sleeping), collect your wits, recall why bats are good, and help the little critter escape safely by opening a window or door so it can fly out or be guided it out with a broom. If a bat is found in your home or building during the winter months, Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc. needs to be contacted. That’s because in the winter months the bats should be hibernating in winter roosts, and it’s too cold for them to be released outside, plus there is nothing for them to eat during that time of the year. Nebraska Wildlife Rehab staff will appropriately care for the bats until spring when it conducts a public, mass release of them at a suitable location in Omaha.
Hey, looking for a worthwhile project to do for bat conservation and awareness where you live? Why not consider building and putting up a bat house. If constructed and installed properly at the right location, bat houses can be very favorable for local bat populations and you – the homeowner. To get thorough information about bat houses, visit this site.
If you would like further information on bats in the Cornhusker State, please feel free to contact our own “Bat Man,” Wildlife Biologist/Natural Heritage Specialist, Mike Fritz of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in Lincoln. His email address, is: Mike.Fritz@Nebraska.Gov