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Whistler’s bat world — episode one

By Cathy Conroy, Whistler Naturalist s

My years as a park naturalist revealed that few animals invoke as many negative reactions from people as bats. Creepy little rodents flying through the dark of night just waiting to scare the living daylights out of you?…oh, please.

Please let me dispel a few myths about bats — they don’t get caught in your hair, they won’t suck your blood (at least not B.C’.s bats), and they aren’t rodents with wings.

Unbelievably, bats are more closely related genetically to humans than they are to rodents!

But let’s discuss the bats that we have living here in Whistler. There’s actually not much information about that — bats are notoriously difficult to study. The Whistler area is probably home to Hoary Bats and Silver-Haired Bats, secretive loners of the bat world. More common, and more communal in nature, two of Whistler’s most common bat species are Little Brown Bats ( Myotis lucifigus ) and Big Brown Bats ( Eptesicus fuscus ).

Whistler’s bats only eat insects — tons of them (literally) in a year. One little brown bat weighs as much as an Oreo cookie (6 grams) and can eat about 600 mosquitoes during an hour of night-time feeding. Considering that your typical little brown bat spends four to five hours feeding each night, that’s a lot of mosquitoes — certainly better than your average patio ‘bug zapper’ or mosquito coil can do.

In fact, a small colony (100) of little brown bats will eat about 19 kilograms of insects over the summer months. Now THAT is insect control!

All of B.C.’s bats have quite low metabolisms. In order to save their energy for nighttime feeding, they seek out warm, secure spots to roost during the day — places like attics or barns, and in tree cavities or under tree bark. During the day bats lower their heart and breathing rates, and depending upon the weather they will sometimes slip into a day-time ‘torpor’ or hibernation-like state.

When dusk arrives, they leave the security of their roosts and seek out areas close to water to forage the night away.

Thankfully, many of the misconceptions about bats are being dispelled through research and education The importance of their role in keeping insect numbers down and as crucial plant pollinators are finally coming to light.

The Whistler Naturalists would like to contribute to your knowledge of bats, and to do that we are having a special day on Saturday June 16. Join us for a fun event where we will learn more about bats (did you know their knees are on ‘backwards’?), build a bat house (really), and with luck see and hear some local bats that night.

Upcoming Events :

June 9 — Pemberton Bird and Nature Walk . One-Mile Lake, Saturday at 8:00 a.m. We’ll be joined by five exceptional naturalists here for the annual Breeding Bird Survey. Everyone welcome. If you live in Pemberton or Mount Currie, this will be a great opportunity to meet other locals interested in nature. Call Bob Brett (932-8900) for details.

June 12 — Sunset Nature Walk . Emerald Forest. Meet at 7:00 p.m. at the bottom of Lorimer Rd., at the entrance to the Catholic Church. Free for members; $2 for non-members. Call Bob Brett (932-8900) for more information.

June 16 — Bat Day . Come out next Saturday to learn more about bats and to build your own bat box. Local naturalist and lover of the old Batman TV series, Cathy Conroy (894-1124), will be presenting. Children welcome. Check this space next week for location. There will be a small fee to cover materials.

Website of the week: Even bats have their own website. Try www.batcon.org/.

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Lee Edwards (905-6448; e-mail: leighe11@hotmail.com).

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