Pennsylvania is home to nine species of bats, and others frequently pass through. Bats feed on insects, so they are essential for our ecosystem for natural insect control.
All of us know at least one scary bat story. One reason they show up in so many ghost stories is that they’re nocturnal, they hunt and fly in the dark, so on the rare occasions when we do see them, they seem to emerge from the heart of the night. But that’s just a bad reputation for this generally gentle animal.
Bats eat a wide variety of foods, including nectar, fruit, frogs, fish and insects. All nine of Pennsylvania's bats are insectivorous; their favorite foods include moths, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, and beetles. In one hour, a single little brown bat can eat up to 600 mosquitoes! No wonder they’re so important for controlling insects!
Most of the nearly 1,000 species of bats worldwide use echolocation for food gathering and navigation, which basically means that instead of seeing where they’re going, as humans do, they hear where they’re going. Bats are nearly blind (hence the phrase, "Blind as a bat,"), but they have extraordinary hearing; they make sounds, and from the way that those sounds bounce back to them, they can tell what’s around them and how far away it is.
Bats are mammals, which means that they give birth to live young, and nurse them just like humans do. The babies, called "pups", are blind and naked at birth, but they can hang upside down like their parents soon after birth. Every night at dusk, most of the mothers leave the roost to hunt, leaving their young behind, hundreds of them packed together for warmth, with a few adult females. When they return, each mother finds her pups by calling to them in her own unique way. As soon as young bats learn to fly, they accompany their mothers on nightly insect-catching forays.
Fall is a busy time in the bat world. First of all, there’s mating to be done. When that’s done, bats that migrate south for the winter hit the trail, while ones that stay up north settle into their hibernation spots and gather up the few remaining insects for a winter supply of food. During hibernation, their body temperatures drop near freezing, and their hearts slow down, from their normal 400 beats per minute to only 25 beats per minute. They become completely still.
Female bats that hibernate mate in the fall, but store the male sperm in their bodies, through the winter; when the weather warms up does the sperm fertilize their eggs and their young grow inside them.
Bats are an important animal - in lore and in life. While their dark,
cave-bound lives fill us with mystery, we should also protect them to
be sure they can continue their batty ways.