- Size: 4” long, 8-10” wingspan.
- Color: glossy brown fur, lighter underside.
- Habitat: found throughout the five boroughs.
- When and where to observe: various locations; bat houses erected in many city green spaces like Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
It was incredible. Right there, near the Queens Boulevard street lamps on a warm summer night, a Little Brown Bat went floating by almost like a butterfly. Since that time I’ve kept my eyes open for them, and have seen them flicker across the apartment window, or float above my head on the way home from the subway station.
Our most common bat, this species can be seen around the five boroughs and appears to tolerate – and even embrace — human-altered habitats, often finding shelter under building eaves along with more natural and traditional structures like tree cavities and rock crevices. Bats are the only mammals capable of flight.
With a span of 8-10”, the Little Brown Bat’s wings are actually extensions of skin, and they, along with legs, are used in flight. Measuring just 4” long, with elongated fingers and ears, the bat is covered by glossy, brown fur and lighter, buff fur on its underside.
As nocturnal creatures, they find their way around with echolocation, transmitting high-pitched sound that bounces off obstacles in their flight path so they can navigate and locate food in the dark.
Little Brown Bats hibernate in large groups beginning in the fall, conserving energy by lowering their body temperatures to nearly freezing and slowing their metabolism. They become active again beginning in March through May.
Bats mate in fall and winter. After giving birth, females create maternity colonies where they nurse the young bats for 18-21 days. Baby bats are called pups, and they hang onto the mother’s fur as she forages for food. After four weeks, pups are independent. Little Brown Bats can live for more than 10 years – one was recorded at 31!
Bats unfortunately suffer from a bad, and inaccurate, public persona. They rarely transmit rabies and have absolutely no interest in sucking your blood. On the contrary, they prefer eating insects and can consume over 50% of their body weight in bugs in a single night, and 500 mosquitoes in an hour!
Like any other species, Little Brown Bats play another role in the food chain as a meal for mice, owls, hawks, snakes, raccoons and domestic cats. Though their populations appear to be secure, they may be plagued with health problems and shorter lives from a build up of pesticides in their system.
Instead of reaching for chemicals, why not embrace our ecosystem by letting the bats do the outdoor insect pest control work? Check out their handiwork and their lilting flight shortly after dusk at one of our great parks. Or even just along Queens Boulevard!
- Animal Diversity Web by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, accessed on 1/16/09 at: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Myotis_lucifugus.html
- Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City by Leslie Day, published 2007 by Johns Hopkins University Press.
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