Bats at RBG
By Iona Whatford, Garden Interpreter, Royal Botanical Gardens.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “bat”? Unfortunately, bats tend to get a bad reputation, but in reality these small, harmless and hard-working mammals are very beneficial for the environment. And don’t worry, they are not interested in eating anything except insects!
Bats around the world work hard to keep our ecosystem balanced. They live in every continent except Antarctica. In different climates, bats feed on different things. In tropic and sub-tropic regions, bats pollinate plants when looking for food like small beetles and crawling insects, and fruit-eating bats spread seeds from the fruit they eat. In colder climates like Canada, bats are on the hunt for flying insects, and tend to snack on mosquitoes and even commons pests like tent caterpillars and gypsy moths.
Bats use a technique called echolocation to help them catch their food. Also known as bio-sonar, echolocation helps bats navigate the night skies through emitting ultra-sonic sound waves, which make an echo when they bounce off of objects around them. This indicates where to fly and where potential prey may be hiding. These ultra-sonic sound waves cannot be heard by human ears, however technologies used by experts can identify the different sound waves of different bat species. This technique was used to identify the bats on RBG property.
Bats at RBG
Below are five bats that have been identified at RBG by expert Burton Lim from the Royal Ontario Museum. He was able to identify these species at a 2017 BioBlitz.
Big Brown Bat
These bats have thick fuzzy brown coats and weigh between16 and 26 grams. Big Brown Bats live over 20 years, far surpassing the average bat lifespan of 6.5 years. A colony of 150 Big Brown Bats eats over 1 million insects in a year!
Silver-haired Bats have white tips on their hairs, giving their coats a frosted look. These smaller bats, weighing about 10–12 grams, are solitary and migrate from as far as Alaska to Mexico.
Eastern Red Bat
The Eastern Red Bat is named for its rusty red colouring. It is considered a microbat since it only weighs about 10 grams. This bat enjoys eating common pest insects at RBG such as gypsy moths and tent caterpillars.
Hoary Bats are known as some of the largest bats in Canada, weighing around 26 grams. These bats prefer hunting in forests and migrate to Central America for the winter.
Tricoloured Bats have distinct grey, brown, and red coloured bands on their backs. Weighing 4–8 grams, they are the smallest microbat in Ontario and are a species at risk here.
Keep your eye out for dark silhouettes in the night sky, and you might just catch a glimpse of the hard-working, insect-eating bats that call this place home.