While they are the only mammals capable of true flight, bats share the same main characteristics as almost all other mammals: they have hair, give birth to live offspring, nurse their young, and can control their body temperature, without relying on the sun for warmth.
Grand Canyon is an important refuge for the 22 bat species that live here. The park provides important sheltered habitat, especially as more and more bat habitat is destroyed across the planet. Unfortunately, habitat loss is not the only threat to bats. In North America, over 5.7 million bats have been killed by White-Nose Syndrome , a disease caused by a cold-loving fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that attacks hibernating bats.
Current Bat Research in the park is aimed at understanding the threat this disease poses to the bats of the Grand Canyon, and how we can protect these incredible animals.
Order Chiroptera (all bats in the Grand Canyon are part of the suborder Vespertilioniformes, formerly known as Microchiroptera)
Unlike birds, bats flap their wings nearly nonstop throughout flight instead of gliding.
Bats do not have feathers. Instead they have thin flaps of skin spread between the bones of their wings.
When capturing insects, bats tend to have erratic flight patterns.
Bats are nocturnal and are very rarely encountered during the day.
Bats in the suborder Vespertilioniformes (all bats in Grand Canyon) are identified from other groups of bats by extensive use of echolocation, small eyes, and large ears
Bats are an important part of any local ecosystem, and many bats live near this area of the park.
Bats are found in nearly every habitat in the world, and are the only flying mammal.
Most bats use specialized echolocation, a kind of sonar, to locate prey and to fly through darkness without crashing into anything (including each other).
Most species of bats are only active at night, and sleep in caves, trees, buildings, and other roosts during the day. Some roosts have over one million bats!
A small bat (about the size of a golf ball) can eat up to 5,000 insects per night.
Many plants are pollinated by bats.
Bats can live up to 35 years and give birth to one pup per year.
There are almost 1000 species of bats in the world- making up a quarter of all mammal species. They are found across the planet, except in Polar Regions and extreme deserts.
Different bat species prefer different roost locations, but common roosts in the Grand Canyon include ponderosa pines, caves, human structures, and cracks in cliff sides.
Before the Grand Canyon was a National Park, it was home to many copper, gold, and uranium mines. Now these abandoned mines make excellent habitat for many bat species.
Bats are nocturnal, meaning that they emerge from their roosts at sunset or during the night and spend the night searching for food.
Most bat species have only one offspring, called a pup, per year.
Bats can see as well as humans, but they also use echolocation to navigate and find food at night. Bats echolocate by emitting high frequency calls, and determine how far away an object is by how long it takes an echo of their call to return to them. Using echolocation, bats can also determine the size, texture, and speed of an insect.
The bat species you are most likely to see is the Canyon Bat (Parastrellus hesperus). Once known as the Western Pipistrelle, this species is usually the first bat to be seen in the evening.
Grand Canyon National Park has confirmed the presence of rabies in bats within the park. In a healthy colony, typically less than 1 percent of bats are sick with rabies, which can be transmitted to humans through saliva in a bite or scratch. All animals that are infected with rabies will die from the disease.
Rabies is fatal in humans, but is 100 percent preventable with proper medical care following an exposure. The medical treatment, called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is given following an exposure to a rabid animal. If treatment is not administered right away, rabies is almost always fatal.
Rabies is a serious disease that can kill both animals and humans. Visitors to Grand Canyon National Park can follow these steps to protect themselves from exposure:
Never approach or touch wildlife. Please observe and appreciate wildlife from a safe distance. If you see sick or erratic behaving wildlife, notify a park employee or call the park's 24-hour emergency communications center at 928-638-7805.
In areas where pets are allowed, make sure that pets are vaccinated and kept on a leash at all times.
Teach children to tell you if they are bitten or scratched by an animal.
Anyone who has had contact with a bat or other wild animal in the park should notify a park employee as soon as possible. You should consult with your doctor in the event you have contacted an animal thought to be rabid.
While on a river trip, take extra precaution and sleep in a tent for protection.
Grand Canyon National Park is working with the National Park Service Office of Public Health and Wildlife Health Branch to protect the health and safety of visitors and wildlife in the park by testing any sick or dead wildlife.
Rabies is considered a Zoonotic Disease. Zoonotic Diseases (also known as zoonoses) are caused by infections that are shared between animals and people. You can learn more about zoonotic diseases here: Zoonotic Diseases in Wildlife Populations.
The park’s bat species are active mainly at night. Occasionally, you may see a bat out in daylight. However, if you see a bat that is behaving erratically, is unafraid of humans, or is lying on the ground, it may be sick. Humans can get some of the diseases that make bats sick, including rabies, so it is important not to touch or handle bats so that you do not get sick too.
If you see a bat on the ground or acting sick, do not touch it and tell a park ranger right away. If you accidentally contact a bat, report this to a park ranger and talk to your doctor. The bat will be tested for disease and you may need medical treatment to prevent rabies. This can keep both you and bats healthy!