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Gary Shaw: Bats, flyers of the night

Walk on the Wild Side
Walk on the Wild Side - SaltWire Network

We all know about bats, or at least we think we do. Like many of the species that we encounter in our lives, we have the many myths and pre-conceived notions about some species that are far separated from actual fact.

Few species live among us that represent this inconvenient truth more than bats.

Thanks to old medieval tales and the Hollywood depiction of bats, Halloween, and the villains that they are perceived to be in many of the old horror flicks, bats have been cast in a very negative light with many notions of their behaviour and danger. It’s simply not true.

The reality is that many of us know more about information about bats that is not true, than the actual truth.

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In Newfoundland and Labrador we have up until now at least, confirmed that we have three different species of bats identified. The northern long eared bat and the hoary bat are confirmed species on the island, with the little brown bat being the most common on the island.

The little brown bat is also the only species to be confirmed as living in Labrador. It is many times a challenge to locate and observe these creatures if we are actually looking for them and not that difficult to find them at all when they are setting up housekeeping in our cabins and out buildings where we don’t want them.

During our summer in Labrador, the little brown bats will often be found roosting in trees or many times in our buildings during the daylight hours. There is very little data that can confirm where these animals that we encounter during our summer, spend their winters during their hibernation. They require a place to hibernate during the winter that is frost free such as caves, tunnels or unoccupied buildings that fit their temperature requirements, certainly a tall order in Labrador during often-extreme winters.

A brown bat.
A brown bat.

The bats of Newfoundland and Labrador do not feed on the blood of people or animals. Little brown bats feed on insects such as moths and beetles, but the easy target for them here in Labrador is mosquitoes.

The table is usually set full for them here in Labrador. These little brown bats can catch and consume 600 mosquitoes in just one hour.

These bats will hunt for about two hours right after sunset and then return to their roosts and go out on another hunt for two more hours before sunrise. The remainder of their time is spent on their roosts digesting up to half of their body weight each day. This is of course the mechanism that allows them to put on the body fat necessary to survive the months of hibernation that lies ahead.

The little brown bats fur color will range from a pale tan color to a reddish or dark brown with its ears and wings being dark brown to black. These bats often live more than 10 years, with some individuals well beyond that.

The pregnant females go to their summer roosting sites where they establish maternity colonies and the males will either roost alone or form separate colonies by themselves. Most of these females will have only one pup per year that can often weigh 30 per cent of its mother’s weight at birth. That’s like a 120 pound woman giving birth to a 36 pound infant.

At the end of the day, these little brown bats are a natural part of the space we share with them as we spend time in the country and at our cabins.

The most important part of our co-existence is that we don’t want them in our cabins and out buildings. We don’t want them there, we don’t want their droppings there, and we don’t want the fear of them whether real or perceived in one’s mind.

The solution isn’t that difficult. Go around the buildings with a fine-toothed comb and inspect every hole on the entire exterior of each building. Even the smallest of holes can allow entry, Plug every one, and seal them tight. No entry, no bats. They can hunt wherever they want and eat every mosquito they can catch. It’s all good, we just don’t need them roosting in our personal space.

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