Skip to main content

Bat Week 2021!

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

It's Bat Week! October 24-31 is an international celebration of the vital role that bats play in nature. It’s an opportunity to look at all the good things these misunderstood mammals do to keep our environment healthy—and to take action to keep THEM safe! So, let's show some bat-love for our flying (and mostly nocturnal) friends!

Check out the "fingers" on the wing (a modified hand) of this Indian flying fox! Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Bats are super cool! Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly (although some other mammals “glide”). A bat’s wing is actually a modified hand—similar to yours. They also come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiny, adorable bumblebee bat that weighs less than a penny to the big, beautiful flying foxes that can have a wingspan of up to six feet.

Little brown bat. Photo: J.N. Stuart via Flickr:

Bats eat tons of “pests”.  It’s estimated that one little brown bat (like that cutie above) can eat more than its own weight in insects, like mosquitos and gnats, in just one night! Many of the insects they eat can carry diseases—like malaria or West Nile—so bats help keep us healthy too!

Some bats are pollinators and nectar sippers! Photo: Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

Bats help plants as pollinators and seed spreaders. Not all bats are insectivores (bug eaters). Many species feed on fruit, seeds, nectar and pollen. They pollinate many of the plants and crops that we rely on for food, and their droppings help spread seeds.

Since bats do so much to keep us and our ecosystem healthy, let’s return the favor. Here are some actions you can take to help bats:

Create safe bat-friendly habitats. Avoid using chemical pesticides and let our native bats (there are 10 species known in western Washington) help you with your pest-control work! Consider installing a bat house, and resist the urge to remove dead or hollow trees (snags)—which make great bat habitat. Find links with more info here:

Teach the next generation. Looking for some fun, family-friendly “Bat-ivities” to help children learn why bats are so awesome? Kiddos of all ages will go batty for the crafts, coloring sheets, quizzes, crosswords and fun facts put together by our very own Woodland Park Zoo team member, Kami Koyamatsu. Check out her website here:

Visit Woodland Park Zoo! When you come to see our giant fruit bats (also known as Indian flying foxes) or any of our animals, you’re helping support our conservation projects, including the research we’re doing here at the zoo with colleagues from Bats Northwest.

One of the recording devices we use to monitor wild bats at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo 

Woodland Park Zoo staff and partners from Bats Northwest look over data from the monitoring devices. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo 
Local Research
With local bats as our partners, we installed monitoring devices that record the echolocation calls that bats make while hunting bugs (all our local species are insect-eaters). Echolocation is how bats “see” in the dark. Our northwest species produce sound waves by contracting their larynxes (voice boxes) and emitting the sounds through their mouths. These sound waves bounce off objects, echoing back to the bat telling it what it’s “looking” at.

Echolocation graphic courtesy of Arizona State University:

What Can We Learn? 
So, now that one year of monitoring has passed it’s time to take a look at our data. Here’s what it's telling us. So far, our zoo “bat detector” has recorded the call frequency of 7 out of 10 species known in our region! That kind of info is really important to know because having a healthy, diverse population of bats living in and around our zoo grounds is a sign of a healthy habitat and balanced ecosystem!

Click here to see a larger image of the results from our research

All over the world, bat species face many threats such as habitat destruction, global climate change and white-nose syndrome. Learning about bats, such as where they hunt and roost (especially in cities where we share the habitat) is the first step to finding out how we can help them. 

Wanna get even battier? Visit these websites to explore our local bats and learn what you can do!;;

ALL NEW! Celebrate Bat Week with Virtual Content for Teachers
We’ve partnered with our bat experts to build an engaging suite of educational content for teachers and their students for Bat Week 2021! Educators can access all of our batty activities by signing up for a free educator account on our newest resource, Discovery Den