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Two of the most common bats in Iowa are the little brown bat (Myotis lucifigus) and the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus). Like all of the bats in Iowa, they are insectivores and are critical for keeping Iowa’s insect populations in check. A little brown bat can eat up to 600 tiny insects, like the mosquito, in an hour! A big brown bat will typically eat slightly larger prey like the moths and beetles that cause crop damage. It is estimated that bats provide corn farmers the equivalent of $1 billion in free pest control.
Unfortunately bats face a number of threats. Bats in Iowa are facing habitat loss from two different flanks. Urban development and intensive farming have reduced the size of the forests that bats use to roost and raise their young. At the same time, the introduction of invasive species and a reduction in the number of forest fires has led to changes in the forest composition, resulting in forests that are not as suitable to bats. Bats, particularly species like the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) which are migratory and which fly at higher elevations are also being challenged by the rise of wind energy development. Scientists and wind energy companies are researching why wind turbines are such a threat to migratory and tree-roosting bat species.
Another threat to bats is white-nose syndrome (WNS). Considered one of the worst wildlife diseases of modern times, white-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that affects hibernating bats and causes them to become more active than they should be and use up the fat stores they need to survive the winter without insects. It is especially devastating to bat species which hibernate in colonies (like Little Brown and Northern Long-eared bats) usually in caves and sometimes abandoned buildings. Although WNS is most frequently spread through bat to bat contact, it can be spread by humans when the fungus gets on any clothing, footwear, or gear. This causes the disease to spread farther and faster than it otherwise would. In order to prevent the spread of WNS avoid any contact with any potentially affected sites, equipment, or bats themselves. Makes sure to clean and disinfect your clothing, footwear, or gear before entering any caves or known bat habitat.
Six of the bats in Iowa — the little brown bat, the northern (myotis) long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), the silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans), the eastern pipistrelle (Perimyotis subflavus), and the evening bat (Nycticeius humeralis) — are all considered species of greatest conservation need in Iowa’s Wildlife Action Plan. The Indiana and Northern Long-eared bat are additionally listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The best thing you can do to protect bats is maintain and increase healthy forests with an open canopy structure. Bats will use forests of all shapes and sizes from rural forest fragments to small city parks. To attract them to your yard buy or build a bat house and then benefit from the natural mosquito control! There are also opportunities to volunteer as a citizen scientist to help monitor bats. Fill out the Volunteer Interest Form at www.iowadnr.gov/vwmp/.