Frequently Asked Questions about Bats
Yes, bats are mammals, as they are warm-blooded, give live birth, produce milk, and have fur. Bats have many unique features that truly set them apart from most other mammals, such as the ability to fly and use echolocation to navigate and find food at night.
No, bats are not blind. In fact, most bats can see very well. Coupled with a specialized honing sense called echolocation, they are fierce predators of insects.
Most bats in Florida are small, with body lengths of 2 to 3 inches, and with wing spans ranging from 8 to 15 inches. For example, it would take 10 tricolored bats, Florida’s smallest bat, to equal the weight of 1 large chicken egg. While individuals of Florida’s largest bat, the Florida bonneted bat, would each weigh slightly less than a large chicken egg.
All bats in Florida are nocturnal, which means they are active at night. They are easily seen at dusk or at night while foraging for insects. While it is uncommon to see a bat during the day, it is not unusual to hear them chirping within the roost.
Most small mammals have very short lives (often only 1 year), but bats are the exception and have relatively long lives. One study showed that bats live on average about 4 years, while another study showed bats may live about 16 years on average. The maximum lifespan reported for bats in the wild is more than 30 years. But, we know lifespans of bats vary depending on the species and their life history. For example, bats that roost (sleep) in caves tend to live longer than bats that roost in trees. Bats that have more than one pup per litter tend to have shorter average lifespans than those with only one pup per litter.
Bats can live anywhere from 4 to 30 years in the wild. However, since 2006, when the devastating white-nose syndrome (WNS) was first detected in the U.S., this disease has caused millions of bats to perish. Because bats have a slow rate of reproduction (only 1-4 pups per year), it will take many generations before those populations can recover to previous WNS levels, if the effects of the disease can be overcome.
Most bats in Florida reproduce once per year during the summer maternity season, between April 15-August 15. However, the Florida bonneted bat, which occurs only in south Florida, is known to reproduce almost year-round.
Most bats give birth to only 1-2 pups per year. Hhowever, some species such as the Seminole bat and yellow bat can give birth to 3-4 pups per year. Due to these slow rates of reproduction, it can take many years for bats to recover from severe population declines such from the devastating disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS), which has killed millions of bats since 2006.
There are 13 resident bat species in the state, and 7 additional species that are considered accidental or occasional visitors. Two of the resident species, the Florida bonneted bat and the gray myotis, are listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bats are found everywhere in Florida, but some species only live in certain regions such as the Keys or the Panhandle. Florida bats roost (sleep) in a variety of locations and structures, including in tree cavities, under bark, within bridges and buildings, and in caves.
Bats are either solitary, meaning they prefer to sleep alone, or they roost in colonies, which means they prefer to sleep in groups. Solitary bats tend to roost under palm fronds or in tree cavities, or sometimes even in Spanish moss. Colony roosting bats also may use tree cavities, but some of those species tend to use caves, bridges, or buildings. The size of a colony can range from a few individuals to hundreds of thousands of bats, and varies by species, location, season, and roost type.
Most bats in Florida use multiple roosts in a single year. In some species, bats inhabit seasonal roosts that are used for breeding or hibernation. If the conditions are favorable, bats may return to those same roosts year after year.
All of the resident bats in Florida eat insects. Most bats are opportunistic feeders, meaning, they will consume food that is readily available. It is estimated that bats save the U.S. billions of dollars each year by consuming agriculture pests and insects that spread disease and damage crops.
While larger bats tend to eat larger insect prey and smaller bats consume smaller insects, it is estimated that mosquitos make up 1 percent of a bat’s diet. But multiplied by an entire region, bats easily consume thousands of mosquitos in one night.
Throughout the world, bats provide many ecological services such as pollination, seed dispersal, and insect removal. In the U.S., bats play a vital role in insect control such as reduction of harmful agriculture pests and those that spread disease.
Bats may inhabit buildings and man-made structures due to loss of habitat and natural roosts. There are several ways to tell if bats are present in your home or building. If you cannot see the bats, listen for chirping during the day and look for small droppings (guano) on the floor and staining around entrances. You can also look for bats flying out of the building at dusk, which is when they typically emerge from their roost.
If bats are found within your home or building and you wish to remove those bats, you must safely exclude them without harming them using FWC approved techniques. Bats in Florida are protected year-round, and therefore it is illegal to harm or kill them. It is important to note that during the maternity season when flightless young are present (April 15 – August 15), bats may not be excluded without a permit. This is to prevent the death of young bats and help conserve this critical species. Contact your local FWC office for more information on living with bats.
If a single bat is found within your home or building, then follow the steps listed on the FWC website to safely remove it. Remember to use care when removing a bat. Finding one bat in a home usually is not a sign that a colony is present. However, if a colony was present and all of the entry points were sealed with bats still inside, then bats can end up within the home as they try to find another exit.
If you suspect that bats reside in your home, you should first confirm their presence and the primary entry points into the building. Second, determine if it is maternity season (April 15 – August 15), as a permit is required to conduct an exclusion during this time period. Then, follow the required FWC exclusion techniques or hire a professional who will follow those techniques to exclude bats from your building. The exclusion should take place when temperatures are at a minimum of 50°F, for 4 to 7 consecutive nights. Openings used by the bats must be properly sealed immediately after the exclusion to prevent bats from returning to the building. For more information on bat exclusion and resources, contact your local FWC office.
Bats are known carriers of rabies. However, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control only 6 percent of bats that are submitted actually test positive for rabies. In healthy populations, the presence of rabies in a typically much lower (1 to 4 percent). To prevent exposure to the disease, do not try to handle bats. Bats are not aggressive, but will bite if they feel threatened. If you or anyone, including pets, are bitten, scratched, or make contact with a bat, seek immediate medical attention. Rabies can be treated, but may be fatal if not treated quickly.
Since 2006, over 5.7 million bats have died due to a fungal infection referred to as white-nose syndrome (WNS). While it does not affect humans, this rapidly spreading disease is fatal to bats and is considered a major threat to bats in the U.S. As of mid-year 2016, WNS has not been detected in Florida. It is important that people help protect bats by learning more about WNS and the ways to prevent the spread of the disease, including avoiding entering caves used for bat hibernation and decontaminate clothing and all gear if bat caves are entered. Additional opportunities to help bats can be found at WhiteNoseSyndrome.org.
There are many ways that you can help conserve bats. You can help by installing a bat house, avoid disturbing bats during hibernation and maternity seasons, follow decontamination procedures to prevent the spread of WNS, and preserve natural roosts such as cavity trees.
Bat houses are often used by bats that prefer mature or dead trees. While it may take months or years for bats to move in, the best strategy is to have a well-designed house that is placed in a good location. Follow these links below or contact your local FWC office for more information on how to build, purchase, and establish bat houses.