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In popular culture, bats are creatures to be feared, especially this time of year with their association with Halloween and all things spooky. It’s perhaps not surprising that they have this reputation. Bats are only active at night and usually appear as indistinct shapes fluttering in the moonlight. OR they are huddling together in dark, dank places like caves, and abandoned buildings. Or perhaps, they’ve taken up residence in your attic!
In reality, though, bats are not something to be afraid of or grossed out by. As a fellow bat enthusiast friend of mine calls them, they are actually adorable “sky puppies”, who are the only North American mammal that has truly mastered flight and who spend most of their time sleeping or eating literal tons of insects, many of which are agricultural and human pests. We actually have a lot to thank bats for!
What I find scary is the rate at which we are losing bats. For three species, Tri-colored, Little Brown and Northern Long-eared bats, it is estimated we have lost 90% of their population in the U.S. in the last 10 years. For these three species, the bulk of the declines are attributed to an introduced disease called White Nose Syndrome. Another group of migratory bat species, Hoary, Silver-haired and Red bats, have trouble navigating around wind turbines and are killed by them at a concerning rate.
The good news is that a lot of great work is occurring right now to solve these two threats to bats, so their situation may be able to turn back positive in the near future. Iowa landowners, especially those with forest land, can also help these species by reducing invasive species, like honeysuckle and buckthorn in the understory, planting or supporting loose bark trees such as shagbark hickory and white oak, and finally leaving dead trees standing rather than cutting them down.
It's Bat Week!
Every year, the week leading up to Halloween is designated as Bat Week, which gives us the opportunity to celebrate bats and the important role they play in our world!
Hopefully at this point you’re feeling a little friendlier towards Iowa’s “sky puppies” and to help a little more, here are ten fun facts about bats in Iowa and beyond.
Believe it or not, bats make our world a better place! So, this year I hope you will join me in sending a little love and gratitude their way. Or if love is perhaps a little too far, at least some respect. And maybe plant a tree or two while you are at it!