Did you know that Nova Scotia is home to 6 species of bats?! And that 3 of them are seriously threatened by a fungal disease called “White Nose Syndrome”?
In 2020, our Cape Breton, East Hants, Musquodoboit Valley, and Dartmouth-based “Nature Guardians” Young Naturalists Club chapters took on our biggest stewardship project ever, the installation and monitoring of 48 bat boxes!
Bats are among the least understood and most persecuted of our wild animals. While some people may be frightened of bats because of old myths suggesting that they suck blood, are bad luck, or can get tangled in your hair, we know that bats are actually amazing creatures that play an important role in our native ecosystems! They are the only mammals capable of sustained flying, they navigate using sonar, and they can eat up to half their body weight in insects every night!
All bats are protected in Nova Scotia, but 3 species in particular are given extra protections because of their worrisome population status: the Little Brown Bat (or Little Brown Myotis, Myotis lucifugus), the Northern Myotis (or Long-Eared Bat, Myotis septenrionalis, and the Tri-coloured Bat (Perimyotis subflavus)… all of which are Endangered. The other [migratory] bats include: Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus), Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis), and Silver-Haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans), all of which seem to be stable in Eastern Canada and the New England States.
The Little Brown Bat, Northern Myotis, and Tri-coloured Bat may not leave Canada like some other bat species, but they do travel hundreds of kilometers from summer roosts to winter roosts, where they hibernate. Winter roosts are called hibernacula. Changes in land management in Nova Scotia have resulted in fewer dead trees, old barns, and other sheltered spaces where bats might make a winter refuge.
So we built bat boxes!
Bat homes come in lots of shapes and sizes. We chose to focus our project on two designs: the long rectangular “rocket” box and the shorter “flat” box. Research has shown that different box types may attract different species of bats and encourage different kinds of uses (nursery colonies vs bachelor colonies vs hibernation). We wanted to provide spaces for our most at risk bat species to use how they like, but also needed designs that wouldn’t be too difficult to build, so that’s how we ended up with the rocket and flat boxes!
Some of our boxes went up in community spaces, like public parks, and some went up on private forested lands belonging to member YNC families. Our chapters are now monitoring these spaces for signs of bat activity!
What we would like to see and what we don’t want to see…
It always fun to spot a bat flying around the marsh at dusk or diving for moths by the street lights! Even better to know bats are using a house you put up for them! What we don’t want to see are bats flying around in the dead of winter, when they should be hibernating. One nasty effect of White Nose Syndrome is that it can wake bats up in winter and make them use valuable energy reserves searching for food. Each of our YNC chapters is now armed with an Echo II acoustic monitor, which should allow us to detect bat activity in our project locations, even if we don’t see them.
If you see/hear bats, report them!
Researchers in Nova Scotia need our help to track bat populations! Join our YNC Bat Stewards Facebook Group and tell us if you’re seeing/hearing bats near you. You can also submit your sightings directly to researchers at Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute and the province by filling out their online form.
Fun Bat Facts!
Female bats like to roost together and tend to use bigger boxes to accommodate their large party-size!
In migratory species, research has shown females spending time further north than males.
Dark-coloured bat boxes do better than light coloured ones, up north! Dark boxes attract and keep the sun’s heat, creating a comfortable interior for roosting bats.
Little Brown Bats form large groups during hibernation and are found further North than most bat species.
Sometimes Northern Myotis and Little Brown Bats will hibernate together!
Hoary Bats fly very high and are often mistaken for birds!
Silver-haired Bats are more likely than other bats to be seen flying around during the day and are noticeably slower.
Bats use delayed fertilization, which means mating takes place in the fall but gestation doesn’t start until the following spring, after hibernation!
Some bats go through a flurry of feeding activity early in the evening, take a break, then feed again before dawn.