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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
 MG 2228

Beautiful Bats


One of the most misunderstood animals found in Illinois is the bat. There are many persistent, false rumors and legends that have given bats a bad name. Many of these stories have been created out of a lack of understanding and outright fear. But bats are far from being something to be feared. They are highly beneficial. If you are sitting out on your porch, patio, or deck at dusk, you might just see them swooping around your yard. Bats are the only mammals that are capable of true flight with a range of ability. Most bats in Illinois tend to be proficient fliers catching the vast majority of their food while in flight. Bats found in Illinois are small with the most common bats having a wingspan of 12 inches or less and weight ½ oz. or less.

There is not just one species of bat found in Illinois. In fact, bats are abundant. Thirteen species are found in Illinois. Some are more common than others, some stay year round, and some are migratory or partially migratory. There are six species known to reside in Illinois throughout the year. These bats are the more common bats seen around the state. The Big Brown Bat, Little Brown Bat, Eastern Red Bat, and Northern Long-eared Myotis are some of the most common bats in Illinois and are widely distributed. Bats that are known to hibernate in Illinois are Little Brown Bat, Big Brown Bat, Southeastern Bat, Indiana Bat, and Eastern Pipistrelle. In this group of year-long residents, the Indiana Bat and Southeastern Bat are endangered. There are other bats that may be found in Illinois throughout the year, but they tend to be in smaller numbers. The majority of these bats move to adjacent states or further south for the winter. The Grey Bat, Eastern Red Bat, Silver-Haired Bat, and Rafinesque's Big Eared Bat tend to leave the state during the winter months. In this group Grey Bat and Rafinesque's Big Eared Bat are endangered. The Hoary Bat and Evening Bat are not typically found in Illinois during the winter months moving further south when the weather begins to get colder.

Bats are often associated with blood sucking, but all species of bats in Illinois are insectivores. They eat hundreds to thousands of insects each night. A single female bat with a pup can eat in excess of 3000 insects a night. This is highly beneficial to all residents of Illinois. Bats in Illinois eat insects that cause a number of problems, including those that cause disease. Though they will eat some biting insects like mosquitoes, they tend to go with easy meals which usually are larger insects like moths or some of the larger nocturnal insects. Bats are extremely beneficial to farmers eating insects that are highly damaging to crops. It is estimated that they provide a benefit of 3.7 billion dollars to farmers across the nation by reducing the amount of chemicals that are used on farm fields. Around the world, they are important as pollinators and seed spreaders in addition to pest control. Many of the foods that you love would not be available without bats. These include coffee, chocolate, and citrus fruits.

Though there is some public health concerns associated with bats, they are no more dangerous than any other wildlife. They can carry rabies, but as a whole they are less likely to have rabies than many other mammal species (only 3-5% of tested bats each year). By far the biggest danger that bats pose comes in the form of fungal infections (Histoplasmosis) associated with their feces. This only becomes a danger when you are using a building that is heavily used by bats or when you have a large number roosting in your home. The same danger is presented with bird feces.

Bats are a vastly misunderstood animal by the general public and this lack of understanding is one of the things that present the greatest risk to bats. A better understanding removes much of the fear that is associated with this animal and might even create some passion to help these animals that are threatened by habitat loss, disease, and lack of roosting sites. Bats reproduce very slowly so when habitat is lost or a disease destroys a population, they are very slow to recover. One of the biggest threats to bats currently is an invasive fungus called White Nose Syndrome that is making its way across the US. If you want more information about bats, please visit http://tinyurl.com/extensionbats or www.batcon.org. For more info on White Nose Syndrome, please visit http://tinyurl.com/WNSIL.

If you have any questions, contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu).



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