It’s true, the valley is bat country, but there is little reason to fear, according to a bat expert who spoke at an event for the Snoqualmie Valley Garden Club Tuesday night.
If you love gardening, the garden club is a great place to get together with expert and novice valley residents who share your interest. The club brings specialty growers to the valley for plant sales; their hydrangea sale this summer had over 40 varieties.
Some members choose to open their gardens to other members for garden tours. This year they had spring & summer tours, and they will have a fall color tour this year. They also have expert speakers and teach classes. Besides the ‘bat lady,’ they’ve had a great time learning how to make ‘critter cages’ to protect delicate plants from voracious rabbits and deer.
Dues are $25 per year. Their year goes from Sept-May with special events in the summer. One of their members has a background in forensic botany and will be doing a talk on How Plants Help Solve Crimes in January. Interested parties can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Meetings are on the second Tuesday evening of the month. 6:30 – 8:00 at the new Encompass Campus in Snoqualmie.
As we all know, I am a wildlife enthusiast. So, when a friend texted me that Barbara “The Bat Lady” Ogaard of Bats Northwest would be giving a presentation for the garden club (and BRINGING bats), I knew I had to check it out.
Bats Northwest was founded in March 1996 by Ogaard and thirty-two other dedicated bat lovers, including biologists, zoologists, medical researchers, forestry experts, educators, zoo personnel and interested citizens. They formed the grassroots organization devoted to studying and preserving bats in the Pacific Northwest through conservation, education and research.
Barbara Ogaard first learned to appreciate bats and all they do to make our world better while she was studying Zoology and Ethology at the University of Washington. Ogaard started her career as a ranger and naturalist who worked in city parks before working with a vet and as a wildlife rehabber.
Someone brought her a bat, and after working with the animal for a while, Ogaard decided she really like bats calling them “very personable,“ and studied them more.
After nearly 40 years of work as a wildlife rehabilitator and researcher, she is widely recognized as one of the preeminent experts in bat conservation and rehabilitation. She has nursed countless injured bats back to health and back to freedom in the wild.
Tuesday was Barbara’s fourth visit to the valley, and the wildlife rehabilitator and researcher, explained to a crowd of adults and children why we shouldn’t fear bats but instead appreciate their value to the ecosystem and admire their many interesting traits.
A very engaging speaker, Ogaard gave the audience some basic bat facts, dispelled some common myths perpetuated by media & literature over time and listed the many benefits these critters have to the environment.
Contrary to popular opinion, bats are not flying rats or even a member of the rodent family. They are flying mammals of the Chiroptera order and worldwide have 1100 different species. Washington State is home to 15 of those species. They are:
- Big Brown Bat
- Canyon Bat
- Silver-haired Bat
- Spotted Bat
- Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (rare)
- Pallid Bat
- Hoary Bat
- Little Brown Myotis
- Yuma Myotis
- California Myotis
- Keen’s Myotis
- Long-eared Myotis
- Long-legged Myotis
- Fringed Myotis
- Small-footed Myotis
Washington State bats range in size from the 2.5” (head to tail) Canyon Bat to the 6” long Hoary Bat, which is approximately the size of a House Sparrow. The species most often seen flying around human habitats in Western Washington include the little brown bat, Yuma myotis, big brown bat, and California myotis.
While some species of bats eat fruit or drink livestock (not human) blood, all our local bats eat vast quantities of night-flying insects, including moths, beetles, mosquitoes, termites, flies, or small prey and have great benefit to farmers and homeowners. The three species that only eat blood live in Mexico and South America.
Bats are not blind but navigate by echolocation, meaning they send sound waves from their nose or mouth. The echo bounces off objects, allowing them to locate and estimate the object’s size. Not only are they not blind, but they can also find something as small as a human hair in total darkness. This navigation system makes it unlikely for them to tangle in women’s hair, even though old tales (likely to keep girls indoors after dark) would have you believe so.
When asked about bats concerning disease, Ogaard explained that very few bats have rabies. While bats are the mammal in Washington State most likely to carry the disease, it is also found in raccoons, skunks, foxes, or coyotes.
The Washington State Department of Health shows that 3-10% of bats submitted for testing are found to be rabid. However, these tested bats are more likely to be positive for rabies because they tend to be sick and injured; less than 1% of bats in the wild are infected with rabies.
An attendee asked about the relationship between bats and the recent pandemic. Ogaard explained that even though bats carry many viruses, including Covid-19, bats are just as likely to be infected by us as we are by them. She said the best prevention is never handling wild animals and teaching children to do the same.
Our insect-eating bats eat tons of insects every night. Without this natural bat pest control, night-flying insects such as moths, beetles, flies and mosquitoes would overrun us. Additionally, bat guano is one of the world’s best fertilizers and a significant source of nutriments for the other life in some cave systems.
From the Bats Northwest website, “Fruit-eating bats disperse the seeds of plants critical to habitats such as the deserts of the American Southwest and tropical rainforests. They are increasingly important in the natural reforestation of cleared or burned areas. Nectar-eating bats pollinate many important plants, in some cases being the only pollinators.”
After a short slide show, Ogaard introduced the audience to Cleobatra, a Silver-haired Bat, her partner in education. After providing her with a mealworm, she rounded the room to show the attendees the tiny creature happily munching away while admired by adults and children alike.
Cleobatra came to be an educational bat when she was found stuck to a hanging fly strip. Barbara was able to free her from her plight, but the little bat lost a layer of skin on her wings, making it impossible for her to return to the wild. An easy fix to prevent future wildlife losses, says Ogaard, is to make a small chicken wire cage around the strip to allow bugs in but keep birds and bats out.
Next up was Peggy and Sue, a mother-daughter Big Brown bat combo, who came to Ogaard when Peggy, the mom, had a bum wing. Explaining that bats ovulate at the same time in September; she knew when she got Peggy in May, she was likely pregnant. Sure enough, along came Sue, and for now, the pair will overwinter with her until she determines if they can be released or if they’ll stay with her and be education bats like Cleobatra.
Ogaard ended her fascinating talk by explaining how we can all help Washington’s winged mammals. Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to our PNW bats, and we can all help by installing bat boxes in our yards.
Bats Northwest sells Rocket Boxes that meet the roosting needs of bats and can be purchased on their website. They currently have no delivery option due to issues with the post office, but the boxes can be picked up in Magnuson Park. There are also directions for building your own box on their website.
Garden Club President Leola Young tells me there will be another Bat Lady talk soon so don’t miss your chance to hear this interesting lady talk about these captivating critters. Ogaard is reportedly retiring soon, so this may be your last chance to meet a bat up close in the Snoqualmie Valley!
 Covid-19 is not found in Washington State bats