Scientists urge Muskoka residents to make the area more hospitable . . . to bats

little brown bat hanging upside down

Bats need a new image. The night-flyers tend to get a bad rap, usually getting associated with vampires, haunted houses, and hair entanglement. But conservationists are urging Ontarians to change their views of these flying mammals (which are, by the way, the only flying mammals) and hopefully help to save them before it’s too late.

“Eight species of bats live in Ontario’s cottage country and five of them are threatened: the little brown bat, big brown bat, northern myotic bat, eastern small-foot bat, and the tri-coloured bat,” Christina Davy of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests told Muskokaregion.com. “People living in Muskoka can do a lot to help save these species.”

In recent years, bat populations have been under threat due to fungus pathogens, insecticides, wetland destruction, and the loss of native plant species that support their food sources. A pathogen known as white nose syndrome has made its way to North America from Europe and Asia, but unlike the bats there, North American bats have no immunity. And unfortunately, the decline in bat populations go largely unnoticed, possibly in part because they are viewed as undesirable.

little brown bat with white nose syndrome
A little brown bat with white nose syndrome. [Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Marvin Moriarty]
Maria Franke, curator of mammals at the Metro Toronto Zoo, believes that bats are hugely underrated. “About 70 per cent of bat species feed on insects, something which is of great value to us in controlling insects that damage our crops and gardens,” she told Muskokaregion.com. “Bats consume many times their own weight in bugs each night, reducing pesticide usage by as much as 50 per cent. Bats are indicators of a healthy environment. Their future is directly linked to our quality of life and the quality of our environment.”

So what can Muskoka residents do to help bats? First, we can leave them alone. If bats are roosting in an unused attic or barn, don’t evict them — or if you must, hire a professional who will get them out humanely, not fumigate or harm them.

If you want to go above and beyond, you can also add a bat box to your property, that is, a dark, partitioned box that they can use to roost. And planting native wildflowers can lure insects that the bats then feed on.

It’s time for us to stop seeing bats as menacing bloodsuckers (a myth, by the way) and start seeing them as an essential part of the ecosystem that needs our protection. As Davy puts it, “They are amazing creatures with complex social life we’re just beginning to understand.”

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