WCS Canada

Wildlife

What You Need to Know...

Bats

Fast Facts

Scientific Name: 18 species in Canada from the genera Myotis, Perimyotis, Lasiurus, Euderma, Lasionycteris, Antrozous, Eptesicus, Parastrellus, and Corynorhinus 

  • Bats are very long-lived for their size; there is a banded little brown bat in southern Ontario that is 35 years old and another in southern Alberta that is 39 years old.
  • Bats are not rodents, and are more closely related to people than they are to the mice they resemble.
  • Contrary to the common saying 'blind as a bat', there are no blind bat species, and bats see extremely well.

Bats are the only mammals that can fly, and can play integral roles in our ecosystems. They are major insect predators, hunting by echolocation and eating up to 100% of their body weight in insects when they forage at night in the summer. Throughout the world, many species also serve as important plant pollinators and as prey for a wide range of other animals, including owls and snakes.

In 2006, a parasitic white fungus (Geomyces destructans) appeared on bats in a cave in the state of New York, and it has since spread to over 20 states and five Canadian provinces, including Ontario. The fungal disease, called White Nose Syndrome (WNS), propagates in cool, humid conditions, and grows on bats while they hibernate in caves. It induces them to come out of hibernation, groom, and fly more than they would naturally in the winter, expending the valuable energy that they need to survive until spring. WNS has caused massive die-offs, and the resulting loss of millions of bats is likely to drastically affect the ecosystems in which they play such an influential role. Bats are the slowest breeders of all small mammals, making their populations especially vulnerable to collapse.

In response to this urgent conservation issue WCS is focusing research on western Canadian bat populations in order to understand their wintering ecology as a means of slowing or preventing the spread of WNS into the region. This is important because surprisingly little is known about what bats naturally do in winter, making it difficult to gauge how WNS may affect bats in western Canada if it spreads further. Western Canada touts a surprising diversity of bats, with BC being home to 16 of Canada's 18 species, so much of our bat conservation work focuses on this area.

Activities

Surveying Bat Diversity and Behaviour in the West

British Columbia has the highest diversity of bat species in the country, and it is thus of particular conservation concern. WCS is surveying bat diversity in parts of BC that have never been sampled before to find out more about what bat species reside there, often having to use radio telemetry from an airplane to locate bat hibernation areas in remote regions. In addition, we are using bat acoustics (by recording bat ultrasound vocalizations with 'bat detectors') to describe normal hibernation behaviour in western bats, identify key habitat features for overwintering bats, and assess relative risk of the various bat species to WNS. We are also working with Canadian labs to do baseline fungal spore testing.

Citizen Science for Bats

WCS is working with community bat programs in BC to locate important bat habitat, migration routes, and hibernation sites. Recently, WCS staff initiated a network of people doing bat acoustic monitoring in the region. This Western Acoustic Monitoring Initiative is now a working collaboration between the Western Bat Working Group, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service and already has over 50 people registered. We are also helping the U.S. Geological Survey and other U.S. government agencies to design a North American Bat Monitoring program (NABat) that will facilitate monitoring bat distributions and population sizes.

Key Staff

Cori Lausen
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
All Bats Staff >>

Contact

WCS Canada
Suite 600, 720 Spadina Ave, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2T9
(416) 850-9038