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Ozark big-eared bats

Maternity colony of Ozark big-eared bats in a cave at the Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo By USFWS; Richard Stark


Bat Facts Calendar



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October is National Arts and Humanities Month, a time to encourage Americans to explore new facets of the arts and humanities in their lives and to begin a lifelong habit of active participation in the arts and humanities. We’ll kick off bat facts this month with examples of bats in art.
Chinese art abounds with bats, adorning everything from fabrics to fine china. Chinese artists have long used a circle of five bats, called a wufu, to represent five blessings: health, long life, prosperity, love of virtue, and a tranquil natural death. The bats often are bright red, the color of joy.
Bats figure prominently in the art of many ancient cultures.  Mayan stories often feature bats as guardians of the underworld and a bat was the symbol of the ancient Mayan city of Copán.  An original Mayan sculpture of a bat can be seen in the Sculpture Museum of Copán.
A modern bat sculpture called “Nightwing” in Austin Texas is interesting not only for its bat shape but because it freely swivels with even a light breeze. The sculpture commemorates the largest urban bat colony in the country found beneath an Austin bridge.
Bat Week is Oct. 24 to 31! An annual celebration dedicated to sharing the importance of those flying, furry mammals we love—and need—so much. Find out more!
By now, most eastern bats are at their hibernaculum and are preparing for hibernation. For Indiana bats, specifically, the number of bats active at hibernacula increases through August and peaks in September and early October.
Upon arrival at a hibernaculum, Indiana bats "swarm," a behavior in which large numbers of bats fly in and out of cave entrances from dusk to dawn, even though few actually roost in the caves during the day.  Swarming continues for several weeks and during this time mating occurs.
After mating, female bats begin hibernation; they store sperm from autumn mating throughout winter. Fertilization is delayed until they emerge from hibernation in spring. Some limited mating continues during winter and in spring as bats leave hibernation.

Depending on the species, male bats may remain active outside hibernacula through mid-October or even later, especially at southern sites. Males may extend their activity at the cave entrance during fall to take advantage of mating opportunities with late-arriving females. A given male may mate with many females.
Fall is an important time for bats to store sufficient fat to support the energy requirements of hibernation. During fall swarming, bats forage near the hibernaculum and gain weight, stored as fat, to sustain them until spring.
National Wildlife Refuge Week, celebrated each year during the second full week of October, is a great time to visit a national wildlife refuge. National wildlife refuges provide a network of wildlife habitats, provide unparalleled outdoor experiences, and protect a healthy environment for all Americans. Visit a refuge near you!
National Wildlife Refuges provide habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species and more than 1,000 species of fish.  More than 380 threatened or endangered plants or animals are protected on wildlife refuges.  At least 19 National Wildlife Refuges provide habitat for the Indiana bat.
Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Texas was established in 1994 to protect a remnant of the bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem along the Trinity River.  The Rafinesque's big-eared bat, a state-threatened species in Texas, is found on the refuge.  Watch this video for an up-close look at the bat and this beautiful refuge.
Former military bunkers at Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge,  approximate conditions found in bat hibernacula. If bats can hibernate in these structures, they could become alternatives to natural hibernacula that are infected with white-nose syndrome, or an important location for white-nose syndrome research.
The federally endangered Indiana bat and threatened northern long-eared bat are two of many bat species that call Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge home. Scientists study bats on the refuge to understand how to better manage for them.  
Below the surface of the Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, an underground labyrinth carved by water and time is home to a myriad of animals living in dark passages hidden and undisturbed. Conserving federally-listed cave species, including Ozark big-eared and gray bats, is a primary purpose of the refuge.

The total population of Ozark big-eared bats is less than 2,000 and the Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge includes some of the most important remaining habitat.

How does a bat know that it’s time to migrate from its summer home to the cave or mine where it hibernates?  Bats sense seasonal cues, such as declining day length and falling temperatures, but response to these cues has some variation as the timing of migration varies depending on the weather, and varies among individual bats.
Bat flights in autumn often do not follow a simple linear migration path from summer habitat to the hibernacula. Instead, males, especially, may stop at multiple hibernacula during the fall swarming period, which gives them more mating opportunities and they may be assessing the suitability of the hibernation sites.

The age of reproductive maturity or first breeding is important in determining reproductive potential of a species, and is variable in bats.  Some female Indiana bats are sexually mature by the end of their first summer, although many will not mate until their second year.  Males are not sexually mature until their second year.
There are 45 bat species in the United States and many, like the Indiana bat, migrate between summer and winter quarters. However, four species may have longer migratory pathways than any other terrestrial mammal in the Northern Hemisphere: hoary bats, eastern and western red bats, and silver-haired bats.

Hoary bats, red bats and silver-haired bats are commonly referred to as "tree bats" because they roost in the foliage or trunks of trees year round, these species do not roost in caves.  These migration maps show just how far the hoary bat, red bat and silver-haired bat move.
Bat facts have highlighted many of the mysteries surrounding bat migration.  Bat fur may hold clues to solving some of these mysteries. Isotopes in the hair of bats  may reveal where the bat was when the hair grew and help elucidate seasonal movements of bats.

The hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) is one of North America's most recognizable and striking bats.  Its large size and rich color distinguish it from all other species.  The genus name, Lasiurus, means “hairy tail” and hoary bats do indeed have a large, densely-furred tail.  As temperatures drop they can wrap the tail around their body to stay warm.

Today is the first day of Bat Week! The Organization for Bat Conservation has suggestions for all of us to help conserve bats. Install a bat house or a bat garden!
Bats abound during the Halloween season!  Blood-lapping bats observed by Spanish explorers in Central and South America were called "vampire" because of the fact that, unlike all other bats, they feed on the blood of their prey.  This may be the source of the connection between vampires and bats that endures even today.
It is Bram Stoker's 1897 novel “Dracula” that cemented the connection between bats and the vampires of folklore.  Stoker's major contribution to the association of vampires with bats was his introduction of the idea that a vampire could shapeshift into the form of a bat (as well as a wolf and mist).
Fortunately, not all characters associated with bats are as nefarious as vampires. The comic book superhero Batman first appeared in a DC Comics book in 1939 While sometimes portrayed with a "dark side" Batman has become a cultural icon and is a beloved crime fighter.
The character Bat Boy debuted in 1992 in the supermarket tabloid Weekly World News. Bat Boy, half human and half bat, evolved into a pop-culture icon and even became the subject of Bat Boy: The Musical, which premiered in 1997 and has since been produced in scores of productions throughout the world.
Lots of folks are thinking about bats during the Halloween season, so it's a great time to spread the good news about bats. Bats are shy, intelligent and very fascinating, use the information you’ve gained through bat facts to help others to appreciate bats. Visit Ranger Rick's Kids and BatWorld to see more about bats.
Happy Halloween! Celebrate the day by joining others in building and installing a bat box - and break a world record!
Last updated: October 6, 2016