October 8, 2023

Go Batty at the Manitoba Museum!

Go Batty at the Manitoba Museum!

By Dr. Randall Mooi, Curator of Zoology, Manitoba Museum

October is when bats – or their silhouettes, at least – are hard to miss! You’ll likely come across multiple houses this month proudly displaying these winged wonders alongside jack-o-lanterns and witches. However, these fascinating flying mammals won’t be joining in on the fun of trick-or-treating. By the end of September, three of Manitoba’s bat species will have migrated south to find food, whereas the other three will be hibernating locally.

Bats: Small but Mighty

Manitoba’s largest species is the hoary bat with a 40 cm wingspan, though it weighs only about 30 g – less than an AA battery! The smallest species weighs as little as 5 g – just a little more than a quarter. They are all nocturnal and, although they do feed on mosquitoes, usually go for larger prey such as moths and beetles. Bats can be important in controlling agricultural pests, saving billions of dollars in crop damage.

Scary times to be a bat

Because Manitoba’s bats are active at night, most of us are unaware that their numbers have plummeted across North America. Several are endangered, including our own little brown bat and northern long-eared bat. These two hibernating species are susceptible to white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection (likely introduced from Europe) that interrupts hibernation patterns and has decimated bat populations in the east. This fungus now occurs in Manitoba and similar dire outcomes are expected.

Thousands of migrating bats are killed by wind turbines every year. Although renewable energy is an imperative, bats are attracted to wind turbines with murderous results. Because bats migrate on relatively calm nights for short periods in spring and fall, it should be possible to mitigate the effect of wind turbines on bat populations while minimizing economic impacts.

Three bat specimens with their wings extended lying on a dark surface. The top bat is a dark brown, the middle bat a reddish-orange, and the bottom bat a lighters brown with some silver. Identification labels are tied to a foot of each.

Manitoba’s three bat species that migrate. Museum specimens of, from top to bottom, a silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans), eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis), and hoary bat (L. cinereus).

Close-up up of a silver-haired bat specimen curled up in a collection storage container.

A silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) that made a short stop on the wall of the Manitoba Museum during spring migration from the southern United States to our boreal forest.

Looking up in the Manitoba Musuem bat cave where dozens of bat specimens cling to the cave roof.

In the Parklands Gallery, you can use a flashlight to see hibernating little brown bats in a cave diorama based on similar caves in the Interlake Region. How many bats are in our cave? Why don’t you come for a visit and count them for yourself!

Wing it with us this fall!

Even though there may not be any real bats flitting through the air this October, it is the perfect time to visit the Manitoba Museum to find out more about these fascinating flying mammals. Take a walk through the Parklands Gallery and into a replica “Bat Cave” to see how these nocturnal animals live, and make other cool discoveries underground. And don’t forget to put on your costume and join us for our annual Halloween Takeover – a safe, weatherproof, and fun-filled experience for all ages – October 28 and 29!

Dr. Randall Mooi

Dr. Randall Mooi

Curator of Zoology

Dr. Mooi received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Toronto working on the evolutionary history of coral reef fishes. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Fishes of the Smithsonian Institution…
Meet Dr. Randall Mooi