Welcome to “Where the Wild Things Are,” an ongoing series where we feature a unique native species — and the best way to care for these creatures. This month we’re featuring the Northern Long-eared bat.
A hot summer night brings many opportunities to experience Iowa’s wildlife — picture fireflies flickering and cicadas humming. But there are other active species on summer nights, some you may not have noticed. Look up to the sky and there’s a chance you’ll glimpse a small, dark silhouette: a Northern Long-eared bat, Myotis septentrionalis.
The Northern Long-eared bat is one of Iowa’s nine species of native bats. It has medium brown fur and is relatively small — only 3 ½ inches long with a wingspan of 9-10 inches. True to its name, this bat’s distinguishing feature is the size of its ears, which are much longer than related species.
An individual Northern Long-eared bat can eat its weight in mosquitoes in a single night — a service that’s easily appreciated by humans. In the spring, pregnant bats form maternity roosts in live or dead trees, spend the summer raising their young and then mate again before fall. In the winter, the bats hibernate in caves or abandoned mines.
In 2015, the Northern Long-eared bat was listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act, meaning that it is at risk of becoming endangered in the near future. The main threat to this species is a fatal fungal disease, called white nose syndrome, which has recently spread to caves in eastern Iowa. Iowa Northern Long-eared bats are susceptible to the disease because the entire population hibernates in only a few caves throughout the state.
The “threatened” designation prohibits killing a Northern Long-eared bat or removing trees within 150 feet of a maternity roost. But there’s another way you can help: by not perpetuating common bat myths and stereotypes. Here are a few:
Myth: Bats are blind and have diseases, including rabies.
Truth: Bats have as good of eyesight as humans and contract rabies less than many other species. In fact, less than ½ of one percent of bats carry the disease. Despite its rarity, rabies is serious, so a vaccine is required if you do get bit. These shots are given in the arm like other vaccinations.
Myth: It’s okay to kill a bat if it gets in the house.
Truth: Iowa has two threatened or endangered bat species — the Northern Long-eared and the Indiana bat. Killing either species is against the law. Bats only have one pup per year and live a long life, so killing one bat can greatly impact a population. If you have a bat in your house, remove it yourself or contact a professional. It is important to stay calm — the situation is stressful for both the bat and the human.
Myth: Bats suck blood.
Truth: Iowa bats eat exclusively insects and spiders. Of the world’s 1,300 bat species, only three eat blood. These species are found in the tropics and feed on the blood of deer and cattle.
INHF has protected over 150,000 acres of land in Iowa — land that benefits the Northern Long-eared bat and many other wildlife species.