Wildlife

Handful of bat species call Alaska home

Although six species of bats are known to live in Alaska, the little brown bat is the most common. It is the only one found in Southcentral, Interior and Western Alaska. It consumes its meals in flight, eating up to half of its body weight in insects each night.

Other species found in Alaska include the long-legged bat, Keen's bat and California bat. The silver-haired bat lives only in Southeast, and the big brown bat is exceptionally rare.

The migratory patterns of Alaska bats are largely a mystery. Some species hibernate in Southeast. Their hibernation cycle can last four to six months. Banded bats have lived in the wild for more than two decades.

Nearly a dozen bat species across the U.S. have been affected by white-nose syndrome, caused by a fungus. The once-populous little brown bat has suffered a major population collapse in the Northeast. The fungus is cold-loving, preferring temperatures in the 39-59 degrees Fahrenheit range.

The signs observed with white-nose syndrome include unusual winter behavior like abnormally frequent or abnormally long arousal from torpor (temporary hibernation), flying, loss of body fat, damage and scarring of the wing membranes, and death.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes that "bats have long been persecuted largely through ignorance. The well-publicized tropical species have developed a reputation for sucking blood and given rise to the myth of human vampires.

"On the brighter side, bats do consume large quantities of flying insects, including mosquitoes. A colony of 500 little brown bats can easily consume 500,000 insects in a single night."

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