- Author: Denise Godbout-Avant
Fascinating Bat Bits
Bats are the only true flying mammal, making up a quarter of the world's mammals. There are 1,100 species of bats, with forty species in the USA. California has twenty-five species, most of which are insectivores.
Bats are one of only three mammals that generally sleep upside down, with sloths and manatees being the other two.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, fruit-eating bats are responsible for dispersing seeds that grow into bananas, avocados and 300 other plant species around the world. Agave plants (which are the source of tequila and mezcal) evolved to supply most of their nectar after dark to attract the nocturnal bats to cross-pollinate their flowers.
Insect eating bats often consume their own weight in insects each night, eating up to a thousand mosquito-size insects in an hour! It is estimated that bats' value to agriculture could exceed $23 million per year.
Bats are excellent fliers with some species flying up to 60-100 mph. They can locate and catch insects in midflight in total darkness, using echolocation, which is the ability to locate objects by reflected sound waves.
Where Do Bats Live?
Usually, males and females with young will roost separately, but in late summer or early autumn, males may join the colony. In the winter when insects become scarce, some bats hibernate, while others may migrate to warmer areas, returning in the spring months.
Bat Myths and Facts
Because of their nocturnal habits, bats are rarely seen, so seem mysterious and are often misunderstood.
Myth - Bats suck people's blood.
Myth - Bats are blind.
Fact - Bats do have small eyes, but they are functional. Megabats, which are larger bats such as fruit bats (found in forests of Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe), search for their food using both sight and smell.
Myth - Bats fly towards and get tangled in people's hair.
Fact - Bats hang upside down from their roosts and tend to drop down and flap their wings before they start to lift off in flight. So, though it may appear the animals are swooping down on you and want to nest in your hair, they're not. In fact, bats don't make nests.
Bats as Pests
Like many mammals, bats can contract rabies. It is rare for a rabid bat to bite a human. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 59,000 humans die from rabies each year, with 99% of these deaths being due to contact with rabid, unvaccinated dogs.
Most bat parasites such as fleas and mites are host specific and cannot survive on other animals. No evidence exists of disease transmission to humans or domestic pets from bat parasites.
Bat droppings, known as guano, can harbor a widespread fungus found in soil, Histoplasma capsulatum, which causes Histoplasmosis in humans. However, most human infections come from birds.
If You Find a Bat. . .
If you find a bat laying on the ground, please leave it alone, especially in the spring or fall, when they may be migrating and are just resting during their long journey. If after an hour or two, the bat has not moved, it is likely sick and should be avoided. If it is in an area where children or pets can access it, you may want to trap it. While wearing leather gloves, carefully put a box over it and slide a piece of cardboard underneath it to trap it. Then contact your local wildlife rescue organization (in Stanislaus County that is the Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center at 1220 Geer Rd., Hughson, 209-883-9414).
Bats in Trouble
One of their most dire threats comes from white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease that has decimated bats in the USA and Canada. Bats that hibernate during the winter do so to ration their energy and survive during a time of year when insects are scarce. The WNS fungus grows on bats' skin which disturbs their hibernation, thus increasing the amount of energy they are using, resulting in dehydration, starvation and often, death. However, a 2015 breakthrough appears promising. A team of researchers treated infected bats infected with a common bacterium on bananas which seems to stop the growth of the fungus. The treated bats were successfully released back to the wild.
How Can You Help Bats
- Learn more about bats, educating friends and family.
- With an iNaturalist app on your smartphone, you can take part in citizen science by observing bats in a park or your own backyard.
- Build a bat house. Bats need places to roost, rest, raise young. UC IPM gives information how to build a backyard bat house: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74150.html. Other bat house links are provided in Resources. Choose a pesticide-free open location with five to seven hours of sunlight. Bats prefer interior temperatures of 80-100ºF during the summer.
- Stay out of caves when directed. Bats need to be undisturbed in caves, particularly in the winter months. If you do visit caves where bats live, clean your shoes before and after to avoid tracking white nose syndrome to another cave.
Where to Go See Bats
- Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area: Not far from Sacramento, this colony resides under the Yolo Causeways, a 3-mile-viaduct on Interstate 80. These are Mexican Free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) who take up residence in the crevices in the concrete bridge. The colony numbers up to a quarter-million bats in size. If you want to see the bats yourself, you can find a place with a good view, but you can also book tours that are specifically designed to get you close enough to see the colony. https://www.yolobasin.org/bats2022/
- Consumnes River Preserve: Near Lodi, several species of bats are found in both the riparian forest and in a bat-friendly bridge built over the Cosumnes River. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/cosumnes-river/
All About Bats Webinar
Webinar: “All About Bats”
Where: On Zoom
When: Wednesday, October 12, 2022, from 1:00-2:30 p.m
Instructor: Rachael Long, UC ANR Integrated Pest Management for Yolo, Solano and Sacramento Counties
What Insects Do Bats Eat? https://ucanr.edu/blogs/bugsquad/index.cfm?tagname=bats
Bats, Allies to Farmers: https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=23708&postnum=23708
Bats in the Belfry: https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=17395
Fear of Bats and Its Consequences by Merlin Tuttle: https://secemu.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Tuttle_et_al_2017.pdf
Bat Myths: https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/nature/article/bat-myths-busted
Myth Busters: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/bats/myth-busters.htm
Nature Conservancy – Bats: https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/animals-we-protect/bats/
Bat Conservation and Management – Bats in Buildings:https://batmanagement.com/blogs/bat-exclusion-control/bats-in-buildings
White nose syndrome: https://blog.nature.org/science/2015/05/27/bananas-to-bats-the-science-behind-the-first-bats-successfully-treated-for-white-nose-syndrome/
All About Bat Houses: https://batmanagement.com/pages/lc-bh-overview
Selecting a Quality Bat House: https://www.merlintuttle.org/selecting-a-quality-bat-house/
- Author: Denise Godbout-Avant
If you have the space, plant an oak tree! While it will take several years for the tree to mature, few plants provide more benefits to nature than an oak tree. One Valley oak tree can provide food, water, and shelter to approximately 350 vertebrate species and over 250 species of insects and arachnids.
Choose plants that bloom at different times of the year, to ensure something is always blooming during the different seasons thus providing nectar sources year-round. Include some plants which produce berries to provide food sources attractive to birds and insects.
Lawns lack variety, thus reducing your lawn space and replacing it with native plants will increase the diversity in your garden. Decreasing the frequency of mowing permits grasses to grow taller, allowing flowers to grow and bloom which would attract bees and butterflies. You can also sprinkle some daisy and clover seeds into your lawn to provide forage plants and flowers for many beneficial insects.
Ponds with aquatic-loving plants can encourage amphibians such as salamanders or toads, or wetland insects such as dragonflies, to visit and set up their homes.
Butterflies engage in behavior called “puddling,” where they stop in muddy puddles for water and nutrients. You can recreate this by filling a terra cotta saucer with soil and pebbles, sink it into the ground and keep it moist. Again, change the water regularly.
Plants and rocks around the water source(s) provide shelter, camouflage, and spots for creatures like butterflies, lizards, or turtles who like to sun themselves near water.
Housing for Bees
Leave the Leaves
Leaving leaves as they drop from your trees and bushes provides food and shelter for a variety of living creatures including worms, beetles, millipedes, larvae of some butterflies and moths, toads, frogs and more. These in turn attract birds, mammals, and amphibians that rely on the smaller organisms as a food source.
One Step at a Time
Changing your garden into a wildlife haven will likely be a step-by-step process over a period of time. Building a garden attractive to wildlife will bring you the enjoyment of watching them and the knowledge you are helping wildlife thrive.
Resources listed provide information for ways to you to build a garden attractive to wildlife.
- Butterflies in Your Garden: https://ucanr.edu/sites/CEStanislausCo/files/345791.pdf
- Sustainable Landscaping: https://ucanr.edu/sites/stancountymg/Sustainable_Landscaping/
- Trees in Your Garden: https://ucanr.edu/sites/CEStanislausCo/files/341553.pdf
- Pollinator-Friendly Native Plants Lists: https://xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/pollinator-friendly-plant-lists
- UC IPM Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/
- The Bee Gardener: The Cavities You Want to Have: https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=12785
- How to Make and Use Bee Houses for Cavity Nesting Bees: https://beegarden.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/How-to-build-and-use-bee-blocks.pdf
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a Stanislaus County Master Gardener since 2020./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>