By Michelle Visconti, Forests Ontario
When asked about bats, most people think about vampires, Halloween, or Dracula, but many fail to realize just how unique and important these creatures are. Bats are vital to our environment. They are insectivores and consume great quantities of pests that threaten us, our forests, and our agricultural fields. This feeding can save farmers, as well as foresters, huge amounts of money.
Bats are mammals, just like us, and are the only mammals that can fly. Contrary to many myths, they are not blind; they simply prefer using echolocation to travel and to find food. Bats generate sound waves from their mouths or noses. As these waves strike an item, they hear the echoes, which helps them identify what is around them.
So, just how helpful are bats? It is common for a bat to consume the equivalent of its body weight in insects every night. That means that a single bat has the capacity to eat thousands of insects daily. Ontario has eight bat species: the Little Brown Bat, the Big Brown Bat, the Hoary Bat, the Eastern Red Bat, the Silver-Haired Bat, the Tricolor Bat, the Northern Long-Eared Myotis, and the Eastern Small-Footed Myotis. Unfortunately, four of these eight species are endangered. Their worst enemy is white-nose syndrome, an infectious disease that has eliminated around 95 percent of Ontario’s bats. With bats being of such importance to the maintenance of our ecosystems and forests, spreading awareness and saving these small creatures is essential.
The bat shortage can also hurt farmers as some bats help pollinate many of Ontario’s crops. Similar to other pollinators, fruit-eating bats feed on the nectar of flowers and gather up a layer of pollen. This then gets carried and transferred to other blooms as they travel from one plant to another.
Bats also provide essential ecological services by increasing seed reproductive success as well as seedling recruitment. Some bat species disperse seeds from many important trees and plants, including fruit trees. Bats eat fruits and their seeds. Then, at night, they travel long distances and defecate the seeds while in flight. The dropped seeds have already been fertilized by the bats, which aids their germination process and overall growth.
With their services to forests, ecosystems, humans, and even economies, bats are essential to us all. However, their existence is threatened, in Ontario and worldwide. We must work together to bring awareness to both their importance and the threats they face.
Michelle Visconti interned with Forests Ontario in July 2021