Going batty about Indiana’s native flying mammals

In Indiana, we have 13 types of bats; around here we have four known bats. These are the Little Brown Myotis, Indiana Myotis, Big Brown Bat and the Red Bat.

There is a good chance that somewhere around here we could also have the Hoary Bat, Northern Myotis, Evening Bat, Eastern Pipistelle and the Silver-haired Bat.

Within Indiana, we also have the Eastern Small-footed Myotis, Rafomesqie’s Big-Eared Bat, Gray Myotis and the Southeastern Myotis.

Here’s some bat facts to throw out at your next meeting.

Myotis means “mouse ear,” meaning these bats have ears like mice.

The most common bats in Indiana are the Big Brown, Red and Little Brown.

Silver-haired bats migrate through Indiana twice a year.

Not all bats live in caves; some hang out under loose or peeling bark, some on limbs of trees, and a few prefer to hang out in buildings (and your attic).

Bats tend to mate in the fall but don’t give birth until spring.

The place that bats go to hibernate is called a hibernacula.

Echolocation is the method bats use to find food and objects in the way. They will call out and listen to the echoes bouncing back.

Bats are the only true flying mammal (flying squirrels don’t fly; they glide).

Bats are the second-largest order of mammals (Chiroptera), making up to one-fourth of all mammals in the world.

Let’s take a quick look at the four bats known to be in our area.

Indiana Myotis (Myotis sodalist): These are a dark pinkish brown and are sometimes confused with the Little Brown Bat. You can tell them apart by the feet and the hairs on the toes. The first one to be identified was found in 1928 in Wyandotte Cave.

As with most bats, the females and young form maternity colonies but do so under loose bark and may have more than one site for this. This bat has been on the endangered species list since 1967. One of the reasons for this is that they form huge masses in very few caves. Populations have been reported as high as 125,000 in a single cave.

Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus): A brownish small bat measuring 2.5 to 4 inches long, weighing perhaps .5 ounces with a wing span of up to 11 inches. Their preferred roaming area is near swamplands, and they can eat up to half their body weight per night in insects. They have been known to get insects off animals, leading people to believe they are attacking the animal.

Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus): These weigh in at just less than 1 ounce, 4 to 5 inches long with a 12-inch wingspan. These bats are the most common, living in cities, towns and rural areas. They live in buildings, hollow trees and caves. They can live up to 19 years. They prefer beetles and eat until full, then hang upside down to digest the food. Females give birth in the spring to two bats.

Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis): These bats are a bright red to a rusty color. They get 3 to 4 inches long weigh less than .5 ounces. These are tree bats; they tend to roost individually in clumps of leaves or on branches. Some of these will migrate south. During a cold snap, they are known to crawl under leaf litter and wrap their tails around them to keep warm. The female produces three to four young bats, which is a large number for the species. A few may stay over winter in Indiana, but there is a large migration in spring and fall.

Bats are in decline for many reasons; the biggest is human activity — exploring caves in the winter, thus disturbing the bats, causing them to lose the energy they have stored, leading to exhaustion and death. Extermination is also due to myths and superstitions and misinformation. The bats have habitat loss through deforestation, removing forage areas plus roost and cave destruction.

Rabies in bats is less than .5 percent, and if a bat is flying close to you, they are not attacking; they are catching the insects that are close to you.