Going Batty! Attract some creatures of the night
Attract some creatures of the night with a simple roosting structure
By: Christine Campbell, B.Sc. Twisted Nature Biology Consulting & Environmental Education
Bats are some pretty amazing creatures. Besides being possibly the cutest things you’ll ever see, they provide all sorts of benefits to your home, garden, and our environment. Running Haunted Calgary, Calgary’s largest haunted yard attraction (www.hauntedcalgary.org), I’m also personally in love with their creepy cute creature-of-the-night ways!
Alberta has at least nine species of bats. Three species, the hoary bat, the eastern red bat, and the silver-haired bat are smart enough to migrate out of the province during our cold, long winters. But six species may choose to stick around! The big brown bat, little brown myotis, long-eared myotis, long-legged myotis, northern myotis, and western small-footed myotis are known to hibernate in Alberta, making them year-round residents.
While they may not pay taxes, these furry winged residents do provide an awful lot to society. The services they provide are often collectively called “ecosystem services,” a catch-all term that refers to the good things nature does that benefits human society. Bats offer tremendous value for fertilizing our crops and gardens and for pollination. Since all of Alberta’s bats are insectivorous, meaning they like to eat the buzzing, flying, crawling things that many people dislike, perhaps the greatest gift they provide is insect pest control. Some bats can eat as much as half of their body weight each night! They eat so many creepy crawlies, in fact, that their worth as pest control has been estimated at $23 billion annually in the US.
Bats, though, face many risks. Most worrying is the introduced fungal infection known as white-nose syndrome, believed to be caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans. While the disease hasn’t been found in Alberta hibernacula (bat winter roosts), it’s rapidly marching west and worrying biologists and bat aficionados. Scientists still don’t understand the exact cause of the disease, but evidence suggests that it was introduced from Europe just a few years ago. Affected bats are often found with a ring of white fungus around their nose and sometimes on their wings. The disease seems to affect the bat’s immune system and interrupts their hibernation. Ultimately, the bat runs out of energy and dies during hibernation. The disease is deadly- often wiping out 100% of the bats in a cave over one winter- that can be hundreds of thousands of bats per cave.
A disease like white-nose syndrome can be damaging for any species, but bats are hit especially hard because they are the slowest reproducing mammal for their size, meaning that populations are slow to recover.
Pretty depressing, eh? Well the good news is that you can do something to help! Since successful reproduction is critical to helping Alberta bats stay one step ahead of white nose syndrome, hosting a maternity roost or bat box can help bats thrive. Bonus? They’ll help you control mosquitos and other insects in your yard.
Bats are very sensitive to temperature so a four-chambered design is strongly recommended to prevent extreme temperature swings. The Alberta Community Bat Program is my go-to resource for designs backed by science. Visit www.albertabats.ca for step-by-step plans to build your own. You can also report bat observations and find more educational opportunities on their website.