Biology student warns against touching bats

Moose Jaw Times Herald - Editorial Staff
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Bats are more related to killer whales than they are mice or rats. After all, killer whales and bats are both mammals.

Shelby Bohn, left, and Kandra Forbes, a park interpreter at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park pose following an informative session about bats on Friday evening.

This is one of the nuggets of information about bats that a group of about 20 Buffalo Pound Provincial Park attendees discovered at a bat hunt Friday evening.

Unfortunately, the wet and windy weather didn’t allow the group to go out in search of big brown bats and little brown bats, which are sometimes found at Buffalo Pound.

Nonetheless, the interested spectators – mostly children – were fascinated by all of the knowledge Shelby Bohn, a University of Regina MSc. biology student studying bats, told them about the only flying mammal.

Bohn says she is often asked if bats like to fly into people’s hair. According to her, that is a myth.

“If they do, it’s a complete accident,” she said. “They’re not attracted to your hair at all.”

Another myth Bohn dispelled was that bats aren’t blind, as many people believe them to be.

“They actually have really good eyesight, but where those myths originate is because they use echo location,” said Bohn. “They do have eyesight, but it’s just more effective to use echo location at night.”

Bohn admitted that there are some bats that do eat blood, but those bats – vampire bats – tend to go after livestock, and are only found in tropical regions of the world.

In Saskatchewan, there are eight species of bats that dwell in trees, caves and attics. However, only two of them – little brown bat and big brown bat – tend to frequent areas of Southern Saskatchewan.

Fortunately for bat populations in the province, the White-nose syndrome has not been found here. A disease that affects hibernating bats, White-nose syndrome is caused by a cold fungus found in caves and it leaves bats with a “white, fluffy nose.”

According to Bohn, the syndrome kills up to 99 per cent of bats in a cave, which is where it is found. There is also some evidence that the fungus contributes to dehydration and eats away at a bat's skin.

The problem with White-nose syndrome is that it makes infected bats arouse more frequently than healthy bats.

“They arouse more often and they run out of the (fat) that they saved,” said Bohn. “A lot of them starve to death before bugs fly around that they normally eat early in the spring.”

Although White-nose syndrome isn’t affecting bats in Saskatchewan, Bohn warned the group not to touch bats, even if they are acting strange and lying on the ground. In those instances, she said, that’s when bats are more likely to have rabies.

Instead, she recommends calling the University of Regina or University of Saskatchewan. At both institutions, bats can be rehabilitated and back in the wild eating food, such as mosquitoes.

Organizations: University of Regina, University of Saskatchewan

Geographic location: Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, Buffalo Pound, Saskatchewan Southern Saskatchewan

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