There are more than 1,300 species of bats throughout the world. Many of them are threatened or endangered, yet they are all vitally important to the ecosystems in which they live. But, among all of the bats that exist, one in particular serves an especially important role—that bat is The Little Brown Bat.
Why is this ‘little’ bat such a big deal? Aren’t all bats the same, anyway? Not quite. As it turns out, The Little Brown Bat leads a fascinating life that is a crucial link in the overall food chain. In this article, we’ll be explaining why by examining this remarkable flying mammal, it’s behavior, roosting characteristics, and other features.
The Little Brown Bat At-a-Glance
The Little Brown Bat, also known as Myotis lucifugus, is an incredibly common bat that lives in the United States, Canada, and even parts of Iceland. They have hibernating patterns like many other bat species, and they’re termed ‘little’ for a reason: the Little Brown Bat only weighs between 5 and 12 grams when fully grown. Comparatively speaking, this is quite small in the world of bats.
Little Brown Bats are so common that they’re one of the most commonly submitted bat species in cases involving potential rabies infections among humans. Recent data from 2018 indicates that the Little Brown Bat is a ‘low frequency’ carrier of rabies, however, with only 2.7% of tested specimens returning a positive result in that year.
An interesting biological feature of the Little Brown Bat is that it can while most bat species live from 10-25 years the Little Brown bat can live as long as 34 years—it’s safe to say that this bat knows how to ensure its survival, even in a world that is growing evermore populated by humans. Speaking of humans; the Little Brown Bat is known for actively seeking out roosts in man-made buildings, often using places like abandoned barns, wells, and defunct mining structures as a home.
It’s just a bat…right?
We’ve established that the Little Brown Bat is a pervasive species that is very commonly found throughout North America. So, why is the Little Brown Bat so important?
The short answer is because, right now, the Little Brown Bat is locked in a struggle for its very survival as a species. This bat is suddenly pooping up on everyone’s radar (no pun intended on echolocation) because it is currently experiencing a significant culling due to numerous natural and man-made threats. So, the more we can learn about this bat, its habits, and how it responds to stressful situations, the more can do to protect it and ensure that it continues to play it’s part in maintaining ecological equilibrium in the world.
Threats Facing The Little Brown Bat
Every few years, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conducts reviews of the many animals in the world that are experiencing threats or endangerment. As of February, 2018, the Little Brown Bat has been classified as an endangered species, and efforts are being taken to learn more about what exactly is causing the decline of Little Brown Bat populations throughout North America.
As biologists are making progress is learning more about why so many of these bats are dying, they’ve learned that something called White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease, is quite literally wiping out entire colonies of Little Brown Bats. This disease most commonly impacts Little Brown Bats in hibernation, bats which are especially vulnerable to anything that can compromise their immune system.
However, it’s not just an insidious fungus that is to blame for the steep decline in Little Brown Bat colonies. According to the IUCN, the energy and mining industries are also playing a significant role in their demise. What’s more, renewable energy in specific has been determined to be a causal link, as well.
Because of the sensitive status of the Little Brown Bat—and just as a general rule of thumb—it’s highly advised that you never disturb or disrupt a colony of bats without the involvement of a trained, permitted professional who knows how to manage these animals. Little Brown Bats that are hibernating can starve to death if they are awoken from their slumber too early!
What Do Little Brown Bats Eat?
Little Brown Bats are voracious insectivores, which means they prefer a diet of insects. They typically head out to hunt during the early dusk hours, and they get their fill of mosquitoes, dragonflies, and moths until they’ve consumed at least half of their body weight in food. Little Brown Bats that happen to be pregnant can even eat more, sometimes exceeding their own body weight in the process. That’s a lot of dead insects!
As with every other animal that has a digestive tract, what goes in must eventually come out. That’s the basic principle for why bat guano—or bat poop—graces the floors of so many caves in the US and Canada. While Little Brown Bat poop isn’t so harmful on its own, it can be a source of nourishment for some funguses that, if brought into contact with human beings, can cause a rare illness known as Histoplasmosis.
Even still, it takes quite a large, old pile of Little Brown Bat poop to pose a serious threat to human health.
Are Little Brown Bats Dangerous?
For the most part, Little Brown Bats are only interested in doing three things: eating, procreating, and hibernating. Not only do they have relatively few natural predators of their own, but they also don’t have any interest in going after or ‘attacking’ human beings.
Even though the fear of being infected by a rabid bat is fairly well-placed (according to the CDC), unprovoked Little Brown Bat bites are very rare. A little-known fact about bats and rabies is that, because bats regularly groom themselves using the saliva in their mouths, the rabies virus can be active in small amounts on the fur of the bat, wherever it last groomed itself. So, if you ever find a grounded bat that may seem like it is in need of help, do not touch it with unprotected hands, and instead, contact your local animal control immediately.
Even though bats have developed a bad reputation for being rabid, aggressive pests, they are much more motivated to stay as far away from humans as possible. We are, after all, a major reason for why so many of them are dying by the thousands every year.
The Little Brown Bat Habitat
Two variables largely impact where the Little Brown Bat is going to choose its habitat: pregnancy status and time of year. Female Little Brown Bats that are pregnant tend to seek out habitats that are different from those females who are not ‘expecting’, and the time of year where they choose warmer climates differs, also.
When we look at the species as a whole, we find that Little Brown Bats choose to roost in places that are common to most other bat species. These places can include:
- Hollowed trees or tree stumps
- Abandoned farm houses or barns
- Piles of tree bark
- Rock crevices
During the winter months, the Little Brown Bat is going to seek out a humid, temperature-steady cave in which it can live undisturbed during its period of hibernation. During this time period—which can last between 4-6 months—the Little Brown Bat is going to hang upside down, motionless, waiting for the temperatures to warm up so that the insects will come out again and hunting can commence.
Where There Are Bats, There Is Balance
Hopefully, we’ve shown that the Little Brown Bat is an incredibly important animal that works very hard every day to maintain the delicate balance nature needs in order to thrive. It is our hope that, by reading this article, you have a new-found appreciation for the value these bats have for all of us.
The next time you’re out and about on a warm summer evening and you see what could be a Little Brown Bat, cheer him on as he swoops through the skies, snapping up the mosquitoes or biting flies that might otherwise try to come snack on you!