Written by YES! Coordinator Erin Nordquist
The Melrose Middle School YES! team is building bat boxes to put in their community. If your team is interested in helping preserve an important part of Minnesota ecosystems, more info on bat boxes, including plans to build them, can be found here.
When most people think of bats, they have a reaction that goes a little like, “EWW!” From popular culture to ancient folklore, these flying mammals get a seriously bad rap. Maybe it’s because they look scary or because they defy our idea of what a normal mammal looks like, but bats are pretty universally feared.
In reality, these industrious little creatures are ecological powerhouses and severely misunderstood members of the animal kingdom. There are about seven bat species that live in Minnesota, and they all do their part to control our insect populations. This includes insects that “bug” you during the summer like mosquitos, but more importantly pests that can do significant damage to crops. Just one bat can eat thousands of pesky insects in one night! If we protect the bats that prevent crop damaging pests, that could lead to less pesticide use on those crops and in the environment.
The Northern Long-Eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis) is one bat species that used to be fairly widespread in Minnesota, but is now dwindling in numbers due to the spread of White Nose Syndrome. The species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on April 2nd, 2015. The spread of White Nose Syndrome, which is a tissue-destroying fungus, can be partially contributed to bat habitat loss. All bats need a place to hibernate in the winter; any changes to their hibernacula can impact them severely. Even small changes in hibernacula microclimates can make them unsuitable for bats, causing them to use up their stored energy and weaken resistance to diseases like White Nose Syndrome. Since bats usually hibernate in caves or mines, we need to be very careful not to enter or alter these areas while bats are there.
During the summer, many bats roost in hollow trees. Because trees are being cut down, bats are also losing their summer habitats. Building bat houses and providing safe bat habitat during the summer months is very important, especially for female bats that are looking for a place to give birth and raise their babies. If bats do not have a place where their offspring will survive, this can endanger their already sparse population numbers.
Fun Fact: Contrary to popular belief, bats are not asymptomatic carriers of rabies. Less than half of 1% of all bats contract rabies. If a bat contracts rabies, it will get sick and show symptoms. Rabies is transmitted only through bites, and a bite from ANY wild animal should be treated with the proper precautions against rabies.