North America’s most abundant tree bat, the Eastern Red Bat, can be found east of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to as far south as central Florida. New York State is home to nine species of bats; six cave bats and three tree bats. While all of our native species are insectivorous and considered nocturnal, tree bats can be distinguished from cave bats due to their more colorful bodies and fully furred tail membrane. In fact, the red bat’s scientific name translates to hairy tail.
Red tree bats typically roost in the foliage of deciduous or sometimes coniferous trees, where they dangle by one foot and twist in the wind, perfectly camouflaged as a dead leaf or pine cone. Like their common name suggests, these bats have silky red fur that also ranges to golden brown. They have white shoulder patches and white tipped fur that gives them a frosted look. Females of this species are noticeably grayer than the very red-orange males. In the summer, red bats are among the earliest evening fliers, often following the same path as the night before. They will feed around forest edges, in clearings and around street lights, consuming many insects, predominantly moths. Bats are incredible aerial predators, devouring 20-50% of their body weight each night. That includes mosquitoes! Now who doesn’t love bats?
From August through September the red bats will mate, though females will store the sperm until spring, rearing their young in March or April. While most bats have one pup, red bats have more mammary glands (four as opposed to two) and will give birth to two to five pups (three on average). Females are the sole caregivers of their young.
Little is known about the red bats’ winter migration and habitat; most will migrate south and hibernate. However, some red bats have been recorded hibernating in the northern parts of their range. Red bats hibernate in hollow trees and leaf litter, though the latter leaves them subject to danger from prescribed burns. Burn crews frequently observe bats being flushed from leaf litter during winter burns. When hibernating, they will live off fat reserves and may lose up to 25% of their pre-hibernation body weight by spring. To handle the harsh winters, their relatively short ears and thick fur are adapted to survive cold temperatures. Interestingly, and may I say adorably, red bats will also use their heavily furred tail membrane to wrap around their bodies like a blanket, helping to minimize heat loss. At subfreezing temperatures red bats will increase their metabolic rate to maintain a body temperature above the critical survival limit.
Bats are a fundamental part of our ecosystem. Considered a keystone species, bats consume vast amounts of insects including agricultural pests. Many fruit and nectar eating bats are responsible for pollinating over 500 species of valuable plants. Helping bats can be as simple as avoiding the use of pesticides, putting up a bat house and leaving old trees to provide roosting spots. Though often feared creatures of the night, bats are amazingly beneficial animals that ought to be revered by all!
By Reneè Allen