Bats are the only mammals that fly. We share our earth with over 1,100 species of bats, the second largest group of mammals on the planet. Of all the bat species, only three are vampire bats. Vampire bats, the only parasitic mammal, primarily live in Latin America and feast on the blood of living animals; they do not attack or feast on humans.
Most bats eat insects, fruit, nectar, and pollen. Megabats, with wingspans as big as six feet, are typically found in warm, tropical regions. Microbats live on every continent except Antarctica.
In Virginia, cave bats hibernate in caves and tree bats prefer the dead wood of hollowed trees and fallen logs, leaf clusters, and abandoned old buildings like barns. Most common are the Big Brown Bat and Little Brown Bat. The Virginia State Bat, the Virginia Big-eared Bat, is on both the State and Federal Endangered Species List, but Myotis Lucifugus or “Lucy”, the Little Brown Bat, is not.
“Little brown bats are in terrible trouble in this country,” says Leslie Sturges, Montogmery County Parks Department Park Naturalist and Founder / Director of Save Lucy the Little Brown Bat Campaign. Lucy is in desperate need of emergency protection.
“Maternity season,” Leslie states referring to July, “is nuts.” Female bats birth one to two live pups a year. Like many species, mother bats need time to teach their young to fly and forage. At this time, pups further develop their innate ability to echolocate, meaning enhance their biosonar capabilities to locate and identify food in the dark while flying as well as improving their communication skills.
“Pups and adult bats,” Leslie says, “can be blown out of trees by high winds, be struck by cars, attacked by hawks, or because of sub-par habitats become stuck for days and become dehydrated.” Leslie, a qualified bat educator, rescuer, and rehabilitator, says recovery can take several days to months depending on the severity of the injury. “Bats are eighty percent wing,” Leslie says which make them vulnerable to torn or broken wings and bones, the latter of which would require surgery.
Leslie’s charismatic demeanor and knowledge make hereducational programs featuring live bats fun and exciting for children and adults. The interactive Save Lucy website is a great learning tool for all ages and includes resources for parents and teachers.
Changing the way we think about bats inspires peaceful co-existence with bats. “Bats are not a threat,” Leslie says. “People are much more tolerant and less fearful.” Ordinary citizens canhelp protect bats by building a bat box or a large community roost, however, it is imperative to preserve bats’ natural habitats, vital ecosystems, and safe roosting spaces from urban infiltration and use of pesticides.
Coupled with human conflict and low population growth, North American bats face another deadly threat: White Nose Syndrome. First documented in the winter of 2006 - 2007, White Nose Syndrome, named for the white fungus that grows on hibernating bats, has now killed an estimated 6.7 million bats in nineteen states and four Canadian provinces. Eight of the eleven cave hibernating bats affected by White Nose Syndrome, also happen to be bats documented in Virginia - including Lucy.