Happy International Bat Appreciation Day from BLM Idaho

Join BLM Idaho in celebrating International Bat Appreciation Day! “Why?” you ask. When you think of bats, you may conjure up frightening images of vampires, but don’t be fooled! Bats provide important and amazing ecosystem services. For starters, they eat a lot of insects; one bat can consume up to 1,000 insects per hour! Bats, the only flying mammals, also pollinate plants, disperse seeds, and provide important nutrients for other species.  

Bat Habitat
Bat detector set up by BLM Owyhee Field Office Biologist Colleen Trese

Idaho's public lands are home to 14 species of bats that occur in forests as well as canyons surrounded by sagebrush. Bats give birth to 1-3 young per year and raise them until they can fly and feed on their own. Some species breed in groups called maternity colonies in caves or abandoned mines, such as the western small-footed myotis (Myotis ciliolabrum). Other species such as the silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) roost alone in trees where they raise their young. To deal with the cold, bats slow down their heart rate and go into ‘torpor’, similar to hummingbirds. To survive the winter, they either hibernate in a cave or mine with moderate temperatures, or migrate south.   

Overwintering Western Small-Footed Myotis in eastern Idaho during a hibernaculum count

Unfortunately, there is a serious threat to hibernating bats in North America: white-nose syndrome which has killed millions of bats since it was first detected in 2006. White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that grows on the skin, often evident on the nose, mouth or ears, or wings. The disease causes bats to rouse early from hibernation. As a result they lose important energy reserves, and many do not survive the winter.

Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) captured by BLM Coeur d’Alene Wildlife Biologist Carrie Hugo. The red light is to lessen the stress of handling; UV light is then used to inspect the wings for signs of white-nose syndrome

BLM Idaho wildlife biologists work closely with partners to monitor bats and their habitats. Due to their elusive nature, surveying for bats poses some challenges. For example,  bats are nocturnal and vocalize outside of the human hearing range, plus they can congregate in some pretty hard to reach places. Some of these monitoring efforts were put on hold in 2020 due to concerns of transmitting Covid-19 to bats, and additional safety protocols have been put into place for anyone handling bats. To date, neither white-nose syndrome nor the disease-causing fungus have been detected in Idaho. BLM Idaho and our partners have been working together to monitor bat populations and gather information on their distribution to help conserve Idaho’s much-appreciated bat species. 

Two people at the mouth of a cave
BLM Upper Snake Field Office Biologist Devin Engelstead (left) and IDFG biologist, both in protective gear and in accordance with white-nose syndrome decontamination protocols