Cave dwellers
Bats help in the bug battle

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 29/00) - Bats are normally associated with dank caves in the middle of tropical jungles.

But some of these flying mammals, best known for inspiring tales of the blood-sucking Count Dracula, also call the NWT home.

"It's very restricted, for the most part, to the southern parts of the NWT -- Fort Resolution, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Fort Providence -- along the lines of those latitudes," said Michael Fournier.

Bats are more of a special interest than a job for Fournier, the wildlife populations technician for the Canadian Wildlife Service.

The three species of bat confirmed to exist in the NWT are the hoary, the little brown, and the Northern long-eared.

None of the bats here are very large -- the hoary is the largest at about 13-15 centimetres in length.

And, no, none of them will try to suck the blood from your neck while you are asleep. What they do feed on exclusively is insects.

"With all the insects we have here in the North, I'm sure they're able to make quite a good living in the summertime," said Fournier.

"Bats have a tendency to feed on larger insects as well. Things like moths are a primary food source."

Moths have developed some sophisticated defences against bats, said Fournier. Some species can detect the sonar bats use during their night-time hunting forays. "They'll actually close up their wings and drop to the ground if they detect a bat's sonar," Fournier said. "The hairs on the back of a moth's body can also dampen the effect of the bat's sonar to some degree."

On the flip side of the same coin, bats are food for some birds, such as owls. With their darting flying pattern, however, a bat on the wing would be more than a challenge for an owl.

Hardly any research has been done on NWT bats. It is not known how many bats there are here, nor whether any of them live here year-round.

"The bats we see here in the Northwest Territories may be spending the winter elsewhere, but there is also some evidence that some populations may overwinter here," said Fournier.

Bats hibernate in much the same way bears do, said Fournier.

"There are caves in the Nahanni National Park area and the Wood Buffalo National Park area that may be over wintering sites for bats."