Bats in New Jersey go into dormancy, hibernating in caves and abandoned mines, for the cold winter months. But those bats will be active again in the late spring, summer, and early fall.
The Hoary Bat, Red Bat, and Silver Haired Bat are part time residents to our state and migrate to southern states in the fall to over winter in the milder climate and return.
However, bats do not get the same good public relations that returning birds and butterflies get when they return to our state. We might see that first robin on the lawn as a sign of spring, but the site of that first brown bat doesn't have the same effect on most people.
Unfortunately, in our ever-changing world, bats have evolved to be habitat and food specific. They rely on certain food sources and certain habitats in order to survive. That makes them very vulnerable to disturbances to their places of hibernation or roosting. Changes to their habitat can also affect available food or water.
Of course, New Jersey is a state where many areas are constantly changing and hibitats are being changed or lost.
Bats need to eat and drink every night. The best areas for them are probably open grasslands and edges of forests where insects are abundant. They also like to roost near open bodies of water where
they drink water without landing.
During the day, they roost in tight crevices such as cracks in rocks, under exfoliating tree bark and in awnings of buildings because these places offer protection from predators and stable temperatures.
Groups such as the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ conduct summer bat surveys to monitor populations and also to encourage bat population stability using "bat houses."
Of course, they are valuable to us because they are the primary predators of night flying insects. It is often noted that a single little brown bat can consume up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects in an hour and up to 3,000 insects in a single night. Nursing mothers can eat up to 4,500 insects nightly, which is more than their own body weight.
Many of the insects they consume are ones we label as "pests":cucumber beetles, leaf hoppers, termites, ants, roaches, corn earworms, grasshoppers, and mosquitoes.
Fear of bats goes back a long way in our history, literature and folklore. In fact, less than one percent of wild bats have rabies.
And despite my mother's stories, bats do not entangle themselves in human hair. They don't really want to even encounter people and will do so more in defense than anything else.
And despite tales of vampires, very few species of bats are blood consuming. There are more than a thousand species of bats worldwide. Only three consume animal blood (usually cattle and poultry) and none live in the United States.
As with snakes and some other animals, one danger to bat populations is our fear and misinformation about them. Protecting their habitats from disturbance is important to maintaining a good bat populations. That is especially true in the warm-weather breeding months.
If bats do get into your home, getting them out safely is important. It is illegal for anyone, including animal control officers and exterminators, to kill bats. (Download information on nuisance control guidelines)
The critical time to NOT disturb them is mid-May to mid-September.
Information on Bats:
Bat Conservation International www.batcon.org
Bat Conservation and Management http://www.batmanagement.com
Information on the Bats of New Jersey