Onlookers wait to do a bat count in 2019. (Photo credit: Okanagan Bat Count)

Onlookers wait to do a bat count in 2019. (Photo credit: Okanagan Bat Count)

Bats try to beat a bad rap in wake of fears about COVID-19 virus

Bats don’t carry or spread the coronavirus, and should be welcomed, not feared

Bats have long had a bad rap, thanks in large part to their nocturnal habits, vampires (Count Dracula in particular), and their staple presence in horror films. More recently, they have had a negative spotlight shone on them because of the COVID-19 virus, and concerns that they carry it.

That association is a myth: bats, in B.C. and elsewhere, do not have or spread COVID-19. However, the BC Community Bat Program is worried that this myth is leading to unfounded fear, and possibly persecution, of bats, which are an essential part of our ecology.

Bats already suffer from many threats, and almost half of the species in the province are considered “at-risk”. The Little Brown Myotis bat — one of the most common species in B.C. — is now listed as Endangered in Canada, and it (and other bats) is now threatened by white-nose syndrome, an introduced fungal disease that is fatal for bats but not for other animals or for humans. Although no cases of white-nose syndrome have been diagnosed in B.C., the disease continues to spread just across the border in Washington state.

The annual BC Bat Count took place in June, but members of the public are encouraged to count bats at local roost sites and report the findings to the BC Community Bat Program. The colony reports are vital for monitoring bat populations and helping biologists understand bat distribution and normal variation in colony sizes.

It’s easy to do a bat count, which is fun and safe: simply wait outside a known roost site, such as a bat-box, barn, or attic, and count bats as they fly out at twilight. Ideally, counts are done in June (before pups are born) and between July 11 and August 5, when pups are flying.

“The counts are a wonderful way for people to get outside, respect social distancing guidelines, and be involved in collecting important scientific information,” says Cate Arnold, Thompson Coordinator of the BC Community Bat Program. “We know relatively little about bats in B.C., including basic information on population numbers.”

The organization can provide information about how to attract bats to your property, including building and installing bat houses. However, people who have bats in their attic might prefer to find out about how to safely evict their unwanted tenants.

“If you have an attic and are happy with bats living there, the BC Bats people are happy to hear from you,” says Vanessa Isnardy, provincial coordinator for WildSafe BC. “Bats are basically not a conflict species unless they’re in a space like an attic where you’re not comfortable having them.”

Isnardy says that the best time to try to exclude bats from your attic is from September to October: “It’s not recommended to exclude them from May through August.” Little brown bats can fit through a space the size of a dime, so once it’s safe to do so, homeowners need to find and seal those spaces.

An alternative location for bats is a bat house on or near your property, where the bats will not be in conflict with you and you can still enjoy them.

“They’re really good for insect control, and farmers really appreciate them, as bats eat insects that attack crops,” says Isnardy. “They eat their weight in insects in a night, so having bats around is good, as they provide more benefits than harm. Making a habitat that’s friendly for them is a good thing, so if you take away an attic ask ‘How can we make a habitat for them?’”

She adds that the BC Community Bat Program website offers design ideas and locations for bat houses. They can also give advice on how to get a bat out of your house safely, and without injuring the bat. For this, and more information about bats in B.C. (including bat counts, white-nose syndrome, bats and COVID-19, and what to do if you encounter a dead bat) go to www.bcbats.ca, call 1-855-9BC-BATS, ext. 21, or email thompson@bcbats.ca.



editorial@accjournal.ca

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