Bats are hungry creatures and can eat up to half their body weight in insects overnight, reducing the amount of pesticides humans use
An important winged link in our local ecosystem is rising on a few fronts, and not a moment too soon.
whatever you think of bats — gonzo bug killer or scary mouse thing with wings — they play their part.
But their playgrounds are getting smaller and fewer, says Toby Rowland, a biologist at the Couchiching Conservancy.
“There is definitely an impact on bats with the growth of urban centers, their habitats becoming fragmented as well as foraging and breeding sites lost over time,” he says. “It’s certainly a delicate situation with this type of urban expansion.”
There are plenty of them in the conservation area, roughly like a horseshoe around lakes Simcoe and Couchiching, from Barrie on one side to Washago and almost to Brechin on the other.
Urban development is a big challenge, Rowland says, adding that it’s not the only one bats face.
Between bat habitats giving way to homes and highways, a particularly nasty disease took its toll in recent years when white-nose syndrome emerged in 2006 in North America. It was first detected in Simcoe County in 2011.
White-nose syndrome is a disease that affects hibernating bats and is caused by a fungus.
“The little brown bat was once one of the most common bat species in our area,” says Rowland. “So over that period, about 10 years, they’ve gone down by up to 90% in some areas.”
So. What’s a bat to do? Hope his human buddies pass?
Sprawl may be inevitable, but people can start right in their own backyards if they want to help out, Rowland says.
“In terms of bat protection, I know bat houses can be helpful,” he says. “But there are certainly important considerations for people when installing bat boxes.
“Bats will only use it if it gives them exactly what they need. It’s high above the ground; the boxes are usually dark and therefore absorb a lot of heat; there is nothing within three meters around them.
Rowland says bat houses can be handy when a homeowner seals their home to keep them out.
“They can put up a bat house so they have a place to move, but sometimes people can be disappointed. Bats always use their walls and not the bathouse they erected because they like to return to the same place,” he says. path to follow.”
On a larger scale and for the same purpose, our friends the bats have recently received help from the City of Barrie and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
This was during construction of the Harvie Road/Big Bay Point Road Bridge, which began in September 2018. The bridge opened to the public in June 2021.
“There were bats identified in the forest by our consultant and the ministry,” says city project manager Todd Comfort. “In 2017, the design/environment consultant was doing night work looking for bats and making acoustic recordings. The ministry listened to the tapes and agreed that there were a very low number of species at risk bat calls. Moreover, the remaining forest — approximately 140 acres — would continue to provide suitable habitat.
“They’ve accepted the city’s offer for 10 bat houses (for the site) to help encourage habitat in the area.”
Another bright spot for bats provides a hopeful break in the beautiful forested area of Church Woods Nature Reserve in nearby Shanty Bay, says Rowland.
This little brown bat mentioned above is an endangered species — like the seven other bat species potentially found on the Couchiching Conservancy grounds — and is making a comeback surrounded by the village conurbation.
“This site is actually where we’ve recorded the most little brown bats out of all of our sites,” he says proudly. “It shows how even small little patches like The Church Woods can support a good population of an endangered species.”
These eight different bat species potentially present in our area are halved when it comes to staying in Barrie over the winter, says Rowland.
“Four of them will overwinter here and hibernate in buildings and caves and things like that,” he says. “And then there are four that migrate south, usually to the southern states or the Ohio Valley. Some of them remain active, but most hibernate once they are there.
The species of bats we are lucky to have among us — and in our forests, backyards and farmlands — are indeed active creatures and provide many benefits for agriculture and the environment.
“They have a huge positive impact on agriculture that most people don’t think about,” says Rowland, adding that bats nibble on pests such as beetles and leafhoppers. “The amount of insects they eat really reduces the amount of pesticides people use.
“Some species of bats can eat up to half their body weight overnight. Usually this only lasts a few hours as they are only active at dawn and dusk.
“I don’t know how many insects that is, but they can eat a lot at once,” he laughs. “When you think of a whole colony there, they can finish off a lot of insects.”
While bat houses and nature reserves are a good start, it will take a lot more to ensure that bats and so many other species can co-exist with us, says Rowland, adding maintaining forested areas . — think of the forested expanses of Simcoe County bordering the southern limits of Barrie — as intact as possible is Job #1.
“What we’re obviously looking at is trying to protect the natural habitat,” he says of conservation efforts. “One of the most important things to do is to protect these types of existing natural spaces.
“Because not only do they provide the roosting site, but they also provide the feeding sites and possibly the hibernation sites during the winter,” he says of what forests offer bats.
And they also offer us two-legged things, he adds.
“Green spaces make everything better for everyone, for animal species and for people.”