It’s no trick: The bats at DNR’s Woodard Bay are a treat

As guardians of the home of the largest bat-breeding colony found in the State, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants you to know that bats are a real treat – on Halloween and every day of the year.

There’s something batty going on with these little mammals. They actually look like flying mice. It makes sense why the German word for bat is “Fledermaus”, meaning, “fluttering mouse.”

You can go and check these little guys out for yourself at Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area. The NRCA is open year-round. Even though bats become popular around Halloween, the best time to see them is actually in the summer. Come to Woodard Bay any clear summer evening to watch the bats emerge at dusk from the old logging pier that they call home. Or, you can wait until after April when bats will return by the thousands to roost.

Bats might seem a little scary, but they’re actually just plain cute. They tend to get a bad rap because of the misconceptions that surround them. No, our Washington species don’t eat blood. No, they don’t get in your hair. And, no, you won’t get rabies from them unless you happen to handle and get bitten by the rare individual carrying rabies. Bats are good to have around – really good.

Bats are some of the most diverse and amazing animals in the world. In fact, they are the second most varied mammal group behind rodents. There are more than 1,300 species of bats in the world with the highest diversity in tropical realms such as Columbia and Indonesia. Yet bats occur in virtually all non-polar environments.

In Washington, we have 15 species of bat, some of which migrate in the cold months to either hibernaculum sites (often suitable caves) or places where insects are available. Little brown bats have been found to migrate 200-800 km (125 to 500 miles) to hibernate. We actually know very little about bat migration.

What do they eat?

Bats are important for keeping insect populations in balance. The yuma myotis and little brown myotis bats at Woodard Bay eat mostly smaller insects such as mosquitoes, midges, and flies. They can consume up to 600 of them in just one hour.

Residents from Henderson Inlet to Olympia, Tumwater, and Lacey benefit from their bug-devouring ways. Locations as far away as Capitol Lake, Black Lake, Long Lake, and Pattison Lake are also confirmed feeding sites for this colony.

But chances are that wherever you live in Washington, you have local bats treating you to summers with fewer bugs.

Bats hunt by emitting high frequency sounds that bounce off their flying insect prey, (yes, just like a radar), and this enables them to locate prey even in total darkness. They also use this amazing ability to fly in places full of obstacles and navigate in darkness. Toothed whales (like dolphins or sperm whales) also have this ability and even a few tiny shrews.

Bat Populations at Risk

Bats are in trouble. Besides being sometimes reviled for reasons of superstition or wrong-headedness, there are big environmental troubles out there.

White Nose Syndrome has been decimating bat colonies in hibernation in the eastern United States. It is a fungus that can live in the cool, moist conditions where clustered bats congregate during hibernation. Their respiratory systems clog up and they die — by the millions.

bat flying2

It is feared that up to 80 percent of eastern U.S. bats have perished in recent years. Unfortunately, a case of this disease was detected in Washington state just last year. Please contact the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife if you find a sick or dead bat, or if you notice bats unable to fly. You can report your observations online.

Learn more about DNR’s Natural Area Preserves and Natural Resources Conservation Areas that serve to conserve and restore lands for species like Washington’s bats.