For some people just hearing the word ‘bats’ conjures up something scary and possibly even dangerous. However, once you know the true nature of bats they become less frightening and much more interesting. You may even want them to become part of your pest control system!
So let’s start with the myths. Bats are mammals, not rodents. They are the only flying mammals in existence. Bats are not blind. Bats are not dirty. They groom themselves much like a cat and do not smell. Bats will not fly into your hair, as they do not like being entangled. As to rabies, all mammals can contract rabies; however, even the less than one half of one percent of bats that do contract rabies normally only bite in self-defense and pose little threat to people who Do Not Handle Them. Bat rehabilitators and/or wildlife managers should be called if you ever find a bat on the ground. Under no circumstances should you attempt to pick up the bat. (Cover the bat with a box or pail to keep it safe from predators until someone arrives to take it away safely.)
In California we have twenty-three species of bats and all are insectivores. That is, they eat bugs! In the foothills we can probably find at least twelve of the twenty-three species living among us. During the day they roost in trees, abandoned mines, attics and eaves of homes, and if you’re really lucky, your bat house! All bats require a source of water within their foraging territory.
Each species of bats have their preference in insects, both flying and crawling. Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) are the quintessential mosquito eaters. One little brown bat can catch and eat up to 600 mosquitoes an hour! The California myotis (Myotis californicus) also enjoys mosquitoes, but also likes moths, midges and other aerial arthropods. Other moth feeders include the Hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) and the Silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans).
Beetles and other hard-shelled insects are gourmet treats for the Big Brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus). The Pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) is a beautiful, creamy-yellow furred bat that catches its prey on the ground and delights in eating scorpions, spiders, and centipedes. With very large ears, the Pallid can hear a scorpion walking on sand thirty feet away!
All of the above bats hibernate in the winter with three of them migrating south to find a hibernation site (Hoary, Silver-haired, and Little Brown). These bats as well as the other bats in California use echolocation to catch their prey and to maneuver around obstacles. Although bats make many different “clicking” sounds that are audible to humans, echolocation sounds are so high pitched that they can only be heard using sophisticated instruments.
If you are really interested in learning more about bats, I would recommend that you check out this website: http://yolobasin.org/
Each summer the Yolo Basin Foundation volunteers host tours to watch 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) fly out from their daytime roost (under the Yolo Causeway). This amazing spectacle is worth the trip, I promise. Prior to the fly out, the volunteers present a 45 minute indoor presentation on bat natural history which includes an opportunity to view live bats. Then the group carpools to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to watch one of the largest colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats in California as it emerges to hunt insects at sunset. The dates and times are listed on the website where you can make reservations for up to six people per family. I attended an emergence last year and, even though I have had quite a bit of experience with bats, I was absolutely enthralled as the thousands of bats flew overhead on their way to dinner.
Many years ago I was a volunteer at a wildlife hospital and museum and became totally enamored of the bats that were part of the live collection. Due to injuries, these bats could not be released back into the wild and so became educational animals. As a docent, I gave many bat talks at schools and clubs and found that once children and adults saw the bats and heard the true facts about them, they (the humans) no longer feared these small, marvelous creatures.
So, if you are sitting on your patio or deck in the evening and the mosquitoes, moths and other small flying insects don’t seem to be bothering you, you may just be the lucky recipient of a bat enjoying its dinner!!
Carolee James had several bats living in her guest room during her tenure as a docent with the Lindsay Wildlife Hospital and Museum.