It pays to think for a moment about how cool bats are. It’s not easy — you may need to push through the fog of spookiness, creepiness, and icky-ness that clouds the discussion on bats — but when you can get to a clear mental space you’ll realize that there’s so much to love. They’re mammals that can fly! Some time millions of years ago their ancestors were just regular-old mousy-looking animals that said “enough of this running around on the ground nonsense, let’s get airborne!”
They didn’t actually say that, of course (they probably just squeaked), but they did live it. Bats took to the skies in pursuit of flying insects and followed them all over the world: bats are found everywhere on Earth except the poles and are often the only native mammals in some remote places, like New Zealand, that terrestrial mammals couldn’t reach.
They made it to Maine, too, of course. Eight species of bats are known to live here, and scientists divide them into two groups: the hibernating bats and the tree bats. The difference is that hibernating bats stick it out through a Maine winter by, you guessed it, hibernating tucked into a cave, rock crevice, hollow tree, or human structure. Tree bats migrate south and avoid the cold altogether.
These are Maine’s eight bat species, each with their own unique look and habits:
Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)
Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis)
Eastern Small-footed Bat (Myotis leibii)
Tri-colored Bat (Pipistrellus subflavus)
Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus)
Silver-haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans)
Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)
They make a motley crew, but they’re harmless (unless you’re a moth), and are an essential part of the environment, helping to control insect populations and pollinate plants. We love bats here at Maine Audubon, and that’s why we’re excited to host Bat Week 2022! We’ll be running images of Maine species on social media all week, and will gather for an exciting Bats 101 webinar on Friday, May 20, at noon, with bat conservationist Dr. Kristen Lear. Register here!
We’re getting the word out about bats because they’re in trouble. A sinister plague called White-nose Syndrome is afflicting Maine’s hibernating bat species and decimating their numbers. The fungus infects the bats as they’re hibernating, forcing them to wake up in the middle of winter and use up their precious stores of energy. Closely-packed bats facilitate the transmission of the fungus, meaning that whole colonies can be impacted in a short time. Their energy spent, bats die of cold or starvation, sometimes waking and flying in the winter months in a mad and futile search for insect food. The fungus has caused bat populations to decline by more than 90% in just over a decade.
We need to fight back. An important current opportunity involves the Northern Long-eared Bat, which has declined more than 95%. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently accepting comments on whether to list the species as Endangered, an upgrade in protection from its current rating as Threatened, under the federal Endangered Species Act. This additional protection would go a long way toward giving the species some extra time while biologists can figure out a way to stop or treat White-nose. Maine Audubon strongly supports revising the listing for the Northern Long-eared Bat and we hope you do, too.
Finally, we’re encouraging our leaders to help. Specifically, Maine 1st District Representative Chellie Pingree holds an important role in the future of the Endangered Species Act. Rep. Pingree chairs the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, meaning she has a lot of say into how much funding the ESA may receive. President Biden has requested a badly-needed increase of $79m for the ESA in his latest budget proposal, and we hope that Rep. Pingree can meet that increase and include it in the House Appropriations package.
Working together, we can help these incredible creatures.