That time of the year has come once again – where the moon hangs quiet in the sky and shadows play tricks in her light. In the Sawtooth Valley you will hear the twilight winds blow through aspens, clutching on to the last of their leaves, telling you to wait and listen closely. Perhaps you will hear the Camas Wild Man, trudging through the woods with a two and half foot long beard and sharpened claws. Maybe you’ll see the ghost of the Bulgarian Monk walking down the Yankee Fork by lamplight, only to disappear as soon as you approach him. While you may have never heard of these creatures one nighttime creature you likely know, that is almost synonymous with Halloween, is the bat.
October 24th-31st is National Bat Week, and if you are not familiar with these nocturnal flying mammals, you may be wondering why there is a whole week for them. Bats are commonly seen as pests to be removed, or a sign of decay. A part of this opinion is the concern for bat-bite transmitted rabies. While it is a valid concern, and one should be cautious, bats are very unlikely to transmit rabies. Rabid dogs are responsible for ~99% of rabies infections worldwide (World Health Organization, 2020).
Bats are actually very beneficial to ecosystems, and can help out humans. The main diet of many bats is insects. Bats use echolocation, where they “see” their prey using sound, and these bats have big appetites – in an average night a bat will eat around 1/3 of its body weight in bugs. If an average adult tried to eat that much, it’d be like eating almost four Thanksgiving turkeys – every night! Bats’ appetites help keep insect populations in check, and they help farmers by eating insects that damage crops.
In the state of Idaho there are thirteen different bat species. They are all microbats, most of them having a wingspan about 12 inches long. These bats can roost in caves, old structures, rock cracks, trees, or even in the ground! Bats use multiple places to roost (or rest) – they might have different places for day versus night, or move between roosts as part of their migration. When female bats are ready to give birth, hundreds or thousands of bats will meet in a larger roost. This helps create a warm and safe environment for the bat pups!
While bats provide ecological/human benefits and are undeniably adorable, their populations are at risk. Five of Idaho’s bat species are on the Idaho Species of Greatest Conservation Need list. The biggest threat facing bats is a disease called White Nose Syndrome. Scientists believe it is caused by a fungus brought to the Americas by European settlers, and can sap bats of their energy completely.
While bats may seem scary when it’s dark outside, they are actually some of the friendliest creatures. They avoid humans and help control creepy-crawlies that can actually harm us. Bats provide a variety of benefits to humans and without them our night skies would be far less exciting. Next time you are in the Sawtooths, listen out for the flapping wings of a friendly bat enjoying dinner so you can enjoy the stars.
And, Happy Halloween!
If you find a bat on the ground or in/around an occupied structure, go to https://batworld.org/what-to-do-if-you-found_a_bat/ Never handle a bat unless you are trained to do so.
Written by Bryce Johnston, 2020 Naturalist