As Kitimat embraces the spirit of Halloween with festive decorations one local expert is hoping to shift the narrative on one of the most popular symbols of the season.
Coinciding with the onset of International Bat Week starting Oct. 24, Carlie Quinn, the Skeena bat project coordinator for the BC Community Bat Program aims to dispel myths and highlight the crucial role that bats play in controlling insect populations, contributing to the health of local ecosystems and agriculture. Amidst challenging environmental conditions and the looming threat of White-Nose Syndrome, she calls for community awareness and actions that contribute to their conservation and survival.
“A single bat can eat an amount of insects equivalent to its own body weight in just one night,” Quinn said. Such an appetite is vital in keeping harmful insect populations at bay and boosting the resiliency of crops and gardens.
One study in the U.S. pegs their financial value in pest control for farmers to be worth $23 billion annually.
“I know of several [local] farmers who have attics full of bats,” Quinn said with a laugh. “I counted 400 in one of them — the farmer was stoked!
“Even in town, we have people who put little trays below the bat boxes to collect the guano so they can add it to their garden — it’s one of the best fertilizers on the planet.”
Bats everywhere are in need of a little assistance from conservation-minded communities. In the Northwest, extreme drought conditions lowered insect counts to critical lows this year. The trend for hotter summers also means bat boxes facing direct sunlight may have been too warm for bats to roost. The unpredictability of climactic and environmental conditions overall are adding untold stressors to bats every year.
“But people are coming around to see the importance of bats,” Quinn said. “You don’t see it as much where people think of bats as these evil, dirty creatures. They’re facing a lot of risks these days, which makes it all the more important for people to be aware of bats in their community and maybe do something to help them along.”
Over half of the 15 species in B.C. are now at risk, and with the recent detection of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) fungus in Grand Forks, the urgency for bat conservation and awareness has intensified. This disease is harmless to humans and pets, but is agitating for bats as it accumulates on their noses, disturbing their hibernation and forcing their bodies to use up precious fat stores. Between 80 to 95 per cent of an infected roost will die from causes related to starvation and fatigue.
Despite humans’ close proximity to bats throughout history, it’s one of the more understudied branches of biology.
As B.C. is one of the last regions in North America without endemic WNS, researchers and scientists are racing to learn as much as possible about the province’s populations so they can best aide their recovery if and when the fungus takes hold. Changing public perceptions is key to that success.
“To help us with WNS surveillance, report dead bats or sightings of winter bat activity to our website,” Quinn said, urging people not to touch the animals for sanitary and health reasons.
People can help bat conservation by adhering to the Bat Friendly Community guidelines. These include proactive steps like fostering bat-friendly gardens, implementing measures to prevent accidental bat drownings, and ensuring domestic cats are safely contained.
As Bat Week also marks the time when bats embark on their migration or enter hibernation, they temporarily leave their regular neighborhoods. This departure signals a suitable period for homeowners to address any bat-related maintenance, such as bat box repairs, without inadvertently harming these crucial creatures.
Quinn appreciates not everyone is yet comfortable with bats sharing their space, and invites these people to contact her for advice on how to rid them from a property without unintentionally causing harm.
For more information about any of these issues, or to get involved with the Community Bat Programs of BC, visit bcbats.ca, or, contact Carlie Quinn directly at 1-855-922-2287 ext. 19.
Locally, The Kitimat Valley Naturalist is always interested in hearing from anyone who has questions, concerns or a general interest in bats, or has made recent bat sightings. Contact them anytime at email@example.com or call Peter Ponter at 250-632-6225.