Your Pets and Bats
Alberta has at least 9 species of bats, and although rarely seen because of their nocturnal habits, they are often among the most common wildlife in our communities. Bats are major predators of insects, and are important for maintaining healthy ecosystems throughout the province. any pests of forests, crops, and people are among the favourite foods of bats. Their organic control of these pests is estimated to be worth billions of dollars annually to the North American economy (23 Billion to be specific).
Bats and People
Millions of bats live near people and provide tremendous benefits for controlling insect pests. The vast majority of these bats remain out of sight and do not pose a risk to people. However, as with all wildlife, there are important precautions that should be taken to ensure both you and bats remain safe.Never touch bats with your bare hands. Like many wild animals, bats will defend themselves by biting if they feel threatened, such as when someone attempts to pick them up or reaches into a place they are hiding. Although very rare, there is potential to contract rabies from a bat bite. Rabies is a virus that occurs at very low levels in bat populations throughout Alberta. Post-exposure shots must be administered as soon as possible after any exposure, or suspected exposure, because once rabies symptoms appear, the virus is almost always fatal. Bites typically do not leave visible puncture wounds and rarely bleed, so it may be difficult to determine if someone was bitten—if in doubt, always seek medical treatment. Rabies can also be prevented through vaccinations delivered prior to exposure, but regular testing is needed to ensure continued immunity.The best prevention is to never handle bats with bare hands. Bats do not seek out or attack people. Exposure is typically through accidental contact or deliberate handling of bats. Bats should not be allowed to enter the living quarters of a home, although they can quite often safely use portions of a building where human contact will not occur. Pets should always have up-to-date rabies vaccinations.Photos in this guide may contain bats being held by hands covered by disposable latex or nitrile gloves. These are worn by bat researchers to prevent the spread of microbes from one bat to another. Most bats can bite through these gloves, and they do not provide adequate protection from bites. To protect yourself from bat bites, leather gloves must be worn.
Have you or your pet been bitten?
If you come into contact with a bat in Alberta, contact the Provincial Rabies Hotline at 1-844-427-6847 for instructions on receiving treatment (alternatively, contact Health Link at 811). It is important you receive prompt medical attention from a doctor or nurse, even if you are unsure whether you were bitten. Treatment will typically consist of post-exposure prophylaxis, a series of shots that helps your immune system destroy the virus during its early stages. These shots are small injections in the muscle of the arm or leg, much like other vaccinations we commonly receive. Check in with your veterinarian to ensure your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
How do bats survive the winter?
All bats in Canada eat only insects and other arthropods, and most of these foods are inaccessible to bats during our prolonged Canadian winters. So how do bats survive the winter? There are two strategies that bats use: migration and hibernation.
While all bats are migratory to some extent, three species appear to leave the province altogether—the Hoary Bat, Eastern Red Bat, and Silver-haired Bat. This strategy may reduce the need to accumulate large fat stores to survive the winter, and may help explain why this group typically gives birth to more than one pup. It is largely unknown where our migratory bats overwinter, but it may include the southern US, Mexico, or even the warmer regions of British Columbia. Bats that leave the province for the winter may still hibernate during cold winter weather, albeit for shorter periods
The majority of bats in Alberta appear to hibernate in the province during the winter. This includes the Big Brown Bat and all the Myotis species found in Alberta. Bats that hibernate may still undergo long-distance movements between summer and winter habitat. Banding records from Alberta have found Little Brown Myotis, Long-eared Myotis, and Big Brown Bats moving at least 300 – 500 kilometres between summer and winter habitat (one Little Brown Myotis moved almost 500 kilometres from Warner to Stony Plain). Where the majority of bats in Alberta hibernate is unknown. A few caves have been identified that support hibernating Little Brown Myotis, Northern Myotis, Long-legged Myotis, and Big Brown Bats. Deep rock-crevices, such as those in some Alberta river valleys are known to be used by hibernating Big Brown Bats. Big Brown Bats may also hibernate in buildings, possibly even moving into the cities during the winter, but this has not be observed in other species. All known hibernacula combined account for a very small portion of the bat population, making it uncertain what our bats do during the winter (see also Hibernacula) .
Where are bats found?
Bats occur throughout Alberta. They are among the most common wildlife in cities, especially in our river valleys and parks where there is water and old trees. Some bats have ranges that likely span the entire province, while others may only be found in particular habitat types or regions of the province. The maps on the next page provide an overview, but there is still much to discover about what habitats and regions of Alberta bats occupy.