” – Bumblebee bat, how do you see at night?
– I make a squeaky sound that bounces back from whatever it hits. I see by hearing.” (
From Bumblebee bats, which are the smallest of them all –a little more than an inch long (and weighing less than 1 oz), to Giant flying foxes with a wingspan of 5 to 6 feet, bats are incredibly diverse and truly captivating animals. They’re also feared for no good reason. How about we kill the bad ‘rep’ and start caring about them right now?
9 Good Bat Rules
To protect a wonderful & needed family of endearing creatures
So many bad bat myths to debunk and so little time! For a start: No, bats aren’t flying rats. They are closer to us than you might think. The ancestors of today’s bats may have evolved from an ancestral primate, which could mean that bats and humans may share a common ancestry. The vast majority of bats do not feed on blood but are either insectivores, frugivores or nectar-feeders. Bats won’t attack you and the chances of contracting rabies are rare, although possible as it is with many other mammals.
Witnessing a bat emergence or bat watching can be an incredible and eye-opening experience to another way of life. Get to know them and very quickly you’ll marvel at them! Here, we are debunking myths and presenting considerations and requirements for when you’re out there exploring dark corners, vaulted ceilings, and caves. Keep in mind that the general EwA Wildness Etiquette also applies when observing bats.
Did you know that bats are the only flying mammals on Earth? Bats are the second largest group of mammals in the world. They include more than 1,300 different kinds of species distributed across six continents. The U.S. counts about 50 different species that live in national parks across the country. Indonesia hosts 219 bat species — more than any other country [BA18].
The various diets of bats are instrumental in controlling insect populations. They help limit the spread of human diseases and prevent significant economic losses to crops and livestock [LP18]. Fruit and nectar-eating bats help pollinate a variety of plants, including many commercial plants used by humans. Bats also help in seed dispersal and are valuable for the growth of many tree species. Their guano, i.e., fecal matter and excretions, is often used as a fertilizer thanks to its richness in carbon, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Bats are an invaluable part of functioning ecosystems, and as we learn more about their habitat and biology, we can hope for a change towards a new appreciation for bats, allowing them to thrive and continue contributing to a healthy ecosystem.
Unfortunately, bat species around the world are declining rapidly and many are endangered. The reasons for that decline include habitat loss and fragmentation, diminished food supply, exposure to toxins, destruction of roosts, lethal collisions with wind turbines [OT16], disease, and the killing of bats by humans as well as from introduced predators [AS02].
In the U.S. an emergent disease, known as the White-nose syndrome (WNS), has already killed millions of bats since it was documented in 2006. WNS is caused by a fungus called Geomyces destructans that thrives in cold wet climates [GA09]. Recently, WNS was confirmed in 11 species of bats in North America and has devastated several Myotis populations [WT18].
In Massachusetts, since the onset of WNS, the population of little brown bats has decreased to less than one percent of its original population. In an effort to protect that little bat, the State is monitoring population changes and has called its residents to help in their conservation by reporting encountered bats and roosts [MG18].
Knowing is Caring: Learn before you go. Observe bat species and their habitat well prepared so as to minimize your impact, maximize both your safety and the welfare of the wildlife, as well as for the pleasure of everyone. Enjoy!
Knowing what to expect and how to observe mindfully is the result of actively seeking knowledge.
The Earth without bats would be a very different and much poorer place. More than 1,300 species of bats around the world are playing meaningful ecological roles (e.g., pollination, pest control, seed dispersion) that are vital to the health of natural ecosystems and human economies.
Respecting wildlife and habitats should be the top priority for all those engaged in wildlife watching, and this includes bat-watching.
Because bats are susceptible to human disturbance, any bat observation should be done in a manner that does not disrupt any bat activities, whether they are awake, nursing, grooming, resting, or in torpor (sleep or hibernation).
General safety recommendations aside, knowing what you may encounter is key to making your experience as enjoyable, safe, and informative as possible.
▸ Come prepared. Do a bit of research and gain knowledge about the different species that reside in your exploration area. Knowledge helps you build a framework for understanding bat behavior, what to do and not to do when bats roost, nurse, forage, and ’emerge’ at dusk. Being prepared enables you to make the most of your visit while diligently protecting them.
▸ Know that in the U.S there are many laws protecting bats particularly when they are threatened or endangered. Before you go, reach out to your local park authorities, state, and country wildlife organizations for more specific rules and regulations in place.
» Check Also: Knowing & Understanding
Don’t risk spreading fungi and pathogens harmful to wildlife (humans included).
Invasive species disrupt ecosystems integrity of habitats. They are the 2nd biggest threat to biodiversity and are listed as a cause of 48% of endangered species. Often, invasive species are not originally from the habitat, and compete with or predate on the native species which are not equipped to withstand the attack. Invasive species can come from different continents or different parts of the same continent. They come in many forms (e.g., plants, animals, algae, fungi) and are not necessarily visible to the naked eye. A few spores of a fungus can bring total chaos on species as is the case with the White-Nose Syndrome (WNS).
To date, WNS has killed millions of different species of bats in the United States and Canada. WNS is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd for short. It thrives in cold, high humidity climates, such as caves, and can appear to look like some kind of white powdery fuzz on the faces of bats. WNS attacks bats while in hibernation and causes them to become more active during that time. After arousal from torpor, they burn the fat that they need to go through the winter. Pd is persistent over time and produces dust-like spores that cling to different surfaces and thus can be easily transported to different locations.
▸ Help to minimize the risk of spreading invasive species and harmful pathogens. Know that your gear and equipment such as hiking boots and hiking poles may act as carriers of disease, particularly if you explore multiple sites.
▸ To avoid transporting and introducing diseases we recommend that you take simple disinfection measures when going in and coming back the field.
☒ Plan ahead. Contact your local provincial/federal regulatory or land management agencies and ask if the area you are exploring has Pd-infected sites, or has reported signs of any other infectious diseases.
☒ Wear a pair of clean boots, preferably rubber as they are easier to clean. Carry your gear such as cameras in bags that can be easily decontaminated.
☒ Remove dirt from shoes and clothing immediately after exiting site and come prepared to change clothing and boots prior to entering your vehicle.
☒ Isolate all other gear used to be disinfected offsite.
More decontamination information can be found on the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team‘s Decontamination Information page.
You can also check the US National Park Service‘s WNS dedicated page, and the Canadian National White-nose Syndrome Decontamination Protocol for entering bat hibernacula.
» Check Also: White-Nose Syndrome Response Team
Farther away means less threatening…
Moving objects that do not respond to our warning signals and continue to advance often equates to a threat for us. It stresses us. It’s no different for a bat. A stressed bat is a bat that might want to get you to retreat.
Realize that there is no close “strategic place” to be. Many microbats (small bats in the suborder Microchiroptera) have strong echo-location and will avoid you if they can. The flying patterns and motions of bats vary greatly [BN15] and are quite unpredictable. Bats can be quick to respond to impending dangers around them if they feel threatened.
For all reasons combined, remain at a safe distance for both the bats’ safety and yours.
▸ Approach no closer than 15 feet to any roosting/resting bat whether awake or in torpor [USDA]. Remain well out of the bat flight paths.
▸ Human visits to a hibernacula should be discouraged, unless approved by federal or state agencies, typically for pro-bat scientific research. Hibernating bats are sensitive to non-tactile stimuli and arouse and fly following human visits. Even a quiet presence is detected. This, in turn, can lead to increased mortality due to the premature depletion of the bat’s fat reserves [TD95].
▸ Worth mentioning: Do not camp in cave chambers where bats are present. They need free access to the cave opening and within the whole cave. You don’t want to be in the crossfire of a bat emerging for food, only to be disrupted by your presence. This can confuse and agitate the bats, potentially causing harm to both the bats and yourself.
▸ Proper distance applies to our gadgets. Do not fly drones within 20 feet of emerging columns. Collisions kill bats and disable drones.
▸ Also, avoid lingering too long, especially when bats are roosting low on cave walls or ceilings.
» Check Also: The Greater the Distance, the Better for All!
Whether dead, live on the ground or flying around, the rule is simple: if it’s a bat, don’t touch!
▸ Don’t ever make physical contact with a bat! This includes no handling, no poking, as well as no throwing any kind of object at flying or roosting bats. Bat roosts are very important sites for bats to raise their young and to rest when not foraging. Many roosting sites and their bats are protected by state law.
▸ Grounded bats should not be picked up or touched. They might be young, still learning how to fly, or ill and dying. Bats will bite in self-defense if felt threatened. Bats wings are made up of a thin skin like membrane called patagium. This membrane can be fragile and torn if bats are handled incorrectly or attacked while grounded.
What to do if bitten? This does not happen often, still, if bats are threatened they can bite. Like any other animals, bats can carry rabies and other infectious diseases. However, bats are not asymptomatic carriers of the disease. In reality, bats contract rabies far less than other animals. Less than 1/2 of 1% of all bats may contract the disease. A variety of wild animals (rabies vector species) can catch rabies, including foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and bats. Cats and dogs and even livestock can also contract rabies [BW-h].
This being said, if you’re bitten by any wild animal (bat included), immediately clean and wash the affected area with 70% ethanol solution first, then with soap and water, and seek medical attention or advice as soon as possible. It is highly recommended to bring an ethanol wash or hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t immediately accessible. Rabies is a serious disease. Know the facts in order to keep your family, pets, and yourself healthy and safe. For more information on rabies, contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (or your country’s equivalent).
Be a responsible Bat & Human Health Leader by keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date, teach your children to leave other wild or domesticated animals alone, and prevent bats from entering your home, schools, offices, or other living and working areas. To learn about what to do when a bat gets in your living quarters, check out the EwA Bat Tip.
» Check Also: Hands Off
Do not shine lights directly on bats, including cellphone lights or camera flash (and other light dispensing devices). When emerging, unexpected light disturbs the bats and may alter their behavior and facilitate capture by predators.
Contrary to what we think, bats are definitely not blind, but actually, have accurate vision. Being nocturnal animals, they adapt to extremely low light conditions.
The use or presence of artificial lighting can be disruptive to some bats and act as a barrier to their movement and forging behaviors such as searching for food. While an array of insects is attracted to light, it’s a common misconception to think that bats are too. Lights can signal to a bat that an area is unsuitable and large contrasts between light and dark, such as a flashlight or street lamp, can make it difficult for bats to see large spatial areas.
So, bats avoid both natural and artificial lights. When bats are in flight during the night, they are conscious of artificial lights and avoid them as much as they can. They also avoid pitching their roost in areas that may have direct access to shining light [MF15].
▸ White vs. green vs. red light. White light pollution resulting in habitat loss as a bat may be forced to leave its roost. We recommend the use of a flashlight with a red light switch. Many bats are known to become less active in white and green artificially lit areas but not in red light conditions [SK17].
▸ About flash photography. Note that using a flash doesn’t do much anyway during a good emergence. If a flashlight is needed, look to use a red lenses cover which has shown to be less harmful and disruptive to bats. Red light has a long wavelength, which resembles the dark compared to shorter wavelength lights such as white or green.
▸ About Identification photography. Bat species identification is very difficult and unreliable with photography. Signs of white-nose syndrome on bats would not be present in summer or fall. If taking photos to document bat presence, only photograph bats flying outside of cave entrances. Provide written documentation of bat presence.
» Check Also: Turn Off The Light
Keep noise level low when in the presence of bats.
▸ Loud noises can alter bat emergence behaviors or disrupt foraging sites if too loud. Bats use echolocation while foraging for food by producing sound waves that bounce off of different objects such as insects and return to their ears to pinpoint the exact location of their prey. Keep any human-triggered noise to a minimum (e.g., loud talk, laughs) to avoid disrupting bats’ echolocation sound waves, making it hard for them to find food ([SA08], [BJ15]).
Loud noise and commotion can also disrupt hibernating bats. Bats hibernate during the winter months when the food supply is low. This way, they keep their energy (in the form of fat reserves) for waking in Spring. Disturbing a bat in hibernation can alter its energy level as they burn their fat reserve quicker than normal through arousals. This potentially reduces the amount of time that the bat spends in torpor, and consequently can decrease its chances of survival (even more so if affected by WNS) [MT17].
▸ We don’t think about it as noise, but zipping, unzipping, velcroing, and buckling are unnatural sounds, and as such, they can be disruptive. Silence your camera shutter release prior to getting on site: there’s a setting in any modern camera to turn that sound off.
▸ Group size matters. Big groups tend to be louder and are a source of stress for bats and other wildlife. Some experts recommend group sizes of bat-watchers to be less than 10 people, and even smaller group sizes when conducting research (as researchers might need to be more intrusive and get close to a roost or an individual to collect data).
» Check Also: Quietness & Peace
Let mothers be – Keep away from maternity roosts.
▸ Experts recommend groups of 5 or more observers to remain at a distance over 50 feet from mothers and their maternity roosts. If the party is less than 5 people, then a distance of 10-20 feet is fine as long as the group is not directly in the bat flight path.
In North America, the maternity season begins as early as mid-April in the southernmost United States and in mid-June in the northern U.S. and Canada. Young bats can be seen flying as early as late July.
A bat’s pregnancy lasts between six and nine weeks. The length of the pregnancy depends on the species and is influenced by weather, climate, and food supply. Females can have 1-2 pups per year depending on species. The mother nurtures it very diligently, keeping it close until the young one starts venturing out and foraging for food four to five weeks later.
The maternity season is the most vulnerable period for the pups. Disturbances can cause pups to fall off the roost, get injured or die. Disturbance can also cause mothers to abandon the roost, leaving their pup alone and vulnerable, if they feel threatened. When research monitoring for maternity colonies takes place, it is recommended to never visit more than once per every two weeks.
Maternity roosts should be considered sanctuaries to respect and care for. They are critical to bat’s survival.
» Check Also: Get Your Bearings Right
Go native – protect insects – promote bat habitats _ join a citizen science project…
There are at least 40 different kinds of bats in the U.S. that eat only insects. A single little brown myotis (little brown bat), which has a body no bigger than an adult human’s thumb, can eat 4 to 8 grams (the weight of about a grape or two) of insects each night.
Recent findings report radical declines in insect diversity and abundance [HC17]. Given that many bats, like many bird species rely on insects as a primary food source, it can be hypothesized that declined bat populations coincide with declined insect populations (as it has been reported in France for instance). Indeed, research programs in France revealed that in less than two decades, one-third of birds have disappeared from the French countryside. Among specific species, the declines are even more severe [GL18]. Scientists say that widespread pesticide use is the main culprit of the birds’ decline. Pesticides do not harm the birds directly but decimate the insects that animals rely on for food. Other studies are reporting similar insect population losses in other parts of the world, pointing to reasons including pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change.
💡 Things you can do to help insects and bats
☒ Think native: transform your garden into an oasis of plants native to your area. Native plants are known to help promote local insect populations [TD09].
☒ Protect insects and bats by refraining from using pesticides and fertilizers harmful to insects and bats (e.g., around your home, workplace). It is also important to refrain entirely when possible from using chemical pesticides during the maternity season when pups are most vulnerable. Prefer natural solutions such as proven non-invasive beneficial insects for your location.
☒ Invite bat roosting parties by leaving dead and dying trees on your property where they don’t create a hazard or put up a bat house.
☒ Get involved in local citizen science projects. If you’re local to us join one of our pollinator monitoring projects and learn more about insect conservation.
» Check Also: Be an EwA Naturalist
We only know what we know…. In a moment of awe or excitement, it’s also easy to forget the rules. Let’s be aware, humble and keep ourselves in check.
▸ When you witness ‘code-breaking’ by either visitors, guides or experts, don’t remain silent. Assess the situation and if safe then ask why they’re behaving the way they do. Discuss the known consequences. Those consequences can result in harming the bats and the wildlife around.
▸ It is best to come prepared and discuss the rules with your party and your guide before getting on the site.
▸ In all cases, discuss respectfully your concerns about bat welfare with uninformed bat-watchers, guides or experts. If you feel you can’t (that is, if you feel unsafe or threatened), then report immediately to higher authorities as soon as you’re back to safety.
» Check Also: Listen, Help and Challenge Others
If you are planning to visit bats, please take a moment to read our general EwA Wildness Etiquette and help protect the habitats and species that you enjoy. Thanks!
» Species Status
- [BA18] Bats: Fuzzy Flying Mammals by Bradford, A. (2018)
- [LP18] Bacterial Diversity of Bat Guano from Cabalyorisa Cave, Mabini, Pangasinan, Philippines: A First Report on the Metagenome of Philippine Bat Guano by De Leon P. et al. (2018) in PLoS ONE, 13(7), 1–17. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200095
- [OT16] Multiple Mortality Events in Bats: A Global Review by O'Shea, T.J. et al. In Mammal Review, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/mam.12064
- [AS02] Habitat Use, Diet and Roost Selection by the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) in North America: A Case For Conserving an Abundant Species by Agosta, S.J. (2002) in Mammal Review 2002, Volume 32, No. 2, 179-198. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2907.2002.00103.x
- [GA09] Geomyces destructans sp . nov . Associated with Bat White-nose Syndromeby Gargas, A., et al. (2009) in Mycotaxon,108(1), 147-154. DOI:10.5248/108.147
- [WT18] A Review of Bat Hibernacula Across the Western United States: Implications for White-nose Syndrome Surveillance and Management by Weller, T. J., et al. (2018) in PLoS ONE, 13(10), 1–20. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0205647
- [MG18] Study on Little Brown Bats Continues in Mass.gov. (Ed.). (2018)
» Bat Conservation & (WNS) Prevention/Response
- [BCI] Bat Conservation International
- [BCT] Bat Conservation Trust (U.K.)
- [WNS] White-Nose Syndrome Response Team
- [USNP] How to Help Bats Threatened by White-nose Syndrome by the US National Park Service
- [CWHC] Canadian National White-nose Syndrome Decontamination Protocol for Entering Bat Hibernacula by the Canadian WildlHealtheath Cooperative (2017)
» Bat Rules References
- [TD95] Hibernating Bats are Sensitive to Nontactile Human Disturbance by Thomas, D.W. In Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 76, Issue 3, 18 August 1995, Pages 940–946, DOI: 10.2307/1382764
- [HC18] When a Bat Sees Its Shadow: How Winter Length Can Effect Bat Survival by Haase, C. In National Geographic (2018)
- [MT17] How Disturbances harm Hibernating Bats from Merlin Tuttle's Bat Conservation (2017)
- [KTnd] Bat Facts and Folklore (n.d.) by Kunz, T.H. Boston University. Adapted from: Kunz, T.H. 1984. The American Biology Teacher, 46:394-399.
- [BCI-h] Bat Conservation International Bats and Disease Position Statement (n.d.)
- [BW-h] Rabies Info (n.d.) from Bat World Sanctuary
- [BN15] A Sensory-Motor Control Model of Animal Flight Explains Why Bats Fly Differently in Light Versus Dark. Bar, N.S. et al. In PLOS Biology, 2015; 13 (1): e1002046 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002046
- [MF15] Barriers and Benefits: Implications of Artificial Night-lighting For The Distribution of Common Bats in Britain and Ireland by Mathews, F. et al. In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, March 2015 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0124
- [SK17] Response of Bats to Light With Different Spectra: Light-shy and Agile Bat Presence is Affected by White and Green, But Not Red Light by Spoelstra, K. et al. In Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 284 (1855): 20170075 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0075
- [UE15] Switch Off The Lights For Bats In ScienceDaily, March 2015.
- [SA08] Foraging Bats Avoid Noise by Schaub, A. et al. In The Journal of Experimental Biology 211, 3174-3180 (2008) DOI:10.1242/jeb.022863
- [BJ15] Anthropogenic Noise Alters Bat Activity Levels and Echolocation Calls by Bunkley, J.P. et al. In Global Ecology and Conservation Volume 3, January 2015, Pages 62-71. DOI: 10.1016/j.gecco.2014.11.002
- [TD09] Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Tallamy, D.W. & Darke, R. (2009)
- [HC17] More Than 75 Percent Decline Over 27 years in Total Flying Insect Biomass in Protected Areas by Hallmann, C.A. et al. (2017). In PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185809. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809
- [GL18] Where Have all the Farmland Birds Gone? by Geffroy, L. In CNRS News (2018)
» More About Bats...
- [MA] Bat Species in Massachusetts. Mass Audubon. (n.d.)
- [USDA] Bat Observations Guidance by USDA Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (2012)
- [DJ16] Researchers “Translate” Bat Talk. Turns Out, They Argue—A Lot by Daley, J. In smithsonian.com (Dec 2016)
- [LK18] Meet ‘Chirocopter’: A Drone That Flies Within Swarms of Bats Langin, K. In Science (2018)
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Home / Engage / Species & Habitats Focused Etiquettes / The Bat Rules
◊ Note that this Etiquette is and will remain a work in progress. If there is anything else you would like to see added, please let us know and we’ll do our best to include it. Let’s be Earthwise Aware. Let’s enjoy and protect wildlife responsibly! Thanks for your support!