As the only flying mammals, bats are admittedly strange creatures. However, much of the lore and fear surrounding bats is unjustified. For example, they are not blind, they don’t get caught in your hair and they are no more likely to carry rabies than any other mammal, including domestic dogs. Only a few species of bats feed on animal blood, and none of these are found in Canada. Bats use echolocation to navigate in the dark and to find their prey: they emit sound signals that bounce off objects and create an echo that is detected by their highly developed ears. From this echo, the bat can detect information such as the size, distance and shape of the object. There are 1,000 species of bats worldwide, and they can be found on all the continents except Antarctica. The world’s largest bats eat fruit and are called flying foxes; they are found in southeast Asia, and have wing spans of up to two metres.
In BC, we have 16 species of bats with wing spans that range from 22 cm (California myotis) to 40 cm (hoary bats). Most are insect-eaters and hunt at night. Species found on Vancouver Island include: Yuma myotis (Myotis yumanensis); little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus); western long-eared myotis (Myotis evotis); California myotis (Myotis californicus); silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans); big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus); Keen’s long-eared myotis (Myotis keenii) and Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii). These last two species are considered at risk of extinction, largely due to habitat loss and degradation. The BC bats are generally at the northern limits of their range, and therefore must either hibernate or migrate south to survive the winter. As voracious insect eaters, bats are valuable to ecosystems and to people. Artificial bat-houses can be made with simple materials, and may help to replace some of their lost habitat.
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