Snoqualmie Valley Wildlife: We can’t stop here, this is bat country!

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It’s true, the Valley is bat country, but there’s little reason to be scared, according to a bat expert who spoke at an event for the Snoqualmie Valley Garden Club Tuesday evening.

If you enjoy gardening, the garden club is a great place to meet expert and novice valley dwellers who share your interest. The club brings specialist growers to the valley for the sale of plants; 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 and summer tours, and they will have a fall color tour this year. They also have expert speakers and teach classes. Along with the “bat lady”, they had a great time learning how to make “critter cages” to protect delicate plants from ravenous rabbits and deer.

Membership dues are $25 per year. Their year runs from September to May with special events in the summer. One of their members has a background in forensic botany and will be lecturing on How Plants Help Solve Crimes in January. Interested parties can email [email protected] for more information.

Meetings are held the second Tuesday evening of the month. 6:30 – 8:00 a.m. at the new Encompass campus in Snoqualmie.

Barbara and Bella a Hoary Bat

As we all know, I am a wildlife enthusiast. So when a friend texted me that Barbara “The Bat Lady” Ogaard from Northwest Bats was going to do a presentation for the garden club (and BRING bats), I knew I had to check it out.

Bats Northwest was founded in March 1996 by Ogaard and thirty-two other bat enthusiasts, including biologists, zoologists, medical researchers, forestry experts, educators, zoo staff and interested citizens. They formed the grassroots organization dedicated to the study and preservation of 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 a better place while studying zoology and ethology at the University of Washington. Ogaard began her career as a ranger and naturalist who worked in city parks before working with a veterinarian and as a wildlife rehabilitator.

Someone brought her a bat, and after working with the animal for a while, Ogaard decided she really liked bats, calling them “very friendly, and studied them further.

After nearly 40 years of work as a wildlife rehabilitator and researcher, she is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts in bat conservation and rehabilitation. She has treated countless injured bats and released them back into the wild.

Tuesday was Barbara’s fourth visit to the valley, and the rehabilitator and wildlife researcher explained to a crowd of adults and children why we shouldn’t fear bats but rather appreciate their value to the ecosystem. and admire their many interesting traits.

A highly engaging speaker, Ogaard gave the audience some basic facts about bats, dispelled some common myths perpetuated by media and literature over time, and listed the many benefits these creatures have for 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 order Chiroptera and there are 1100 different species in the world. Washington State is home to 15 of these species. They are:

  • big brown bat
  • canyon bat
  • silver bat
  • spotted bat
  • Townsend’s big-eared bat (rare)
  • pale bat
  • Hoary Bat
  • little brown bat
  • Yuma Myotis
  • California bat
  • Keen’s Bat
  • Long-eared forget-me-not
  • Long-legged forget-me-not
  • Fringed bat
  • Small-footed forget-me-not
Townsend’s Bat

Washington State bats range in size from the 2.5-inch (head-to-tail) Canyon bat to the 6-inch-long hoary bat, which is approximately the size of a house sparrow. Species most often seen flying around human habitats in western Washington state include the little brown myotis, Yuma myotis, the big brown myotis, and the California myotis.

While some bat species eat fruit or drink livestock (not human) blood, all of our local bats eat large amounts of nocturnal insects, including moths, beetles, mosquitoes, termites, flies or small prey and are very beneficial for farmers and owners. The three species that eat only blood live in Mexico and South America.

Bats are not blind but navigate by echolocation, that is, they send sound waves through their nose or mouth. The echo bounces off objects, allowing them to locate and estimate the size of the object. Not only are they not blind, but they can also find something as small as a human hair in total darkness. This navigational system makes them unlikely to get tangled in women’s hair, though old tales (likely to keep girls indoors after dark) would have you believe.

Asked about bats regarding the disease, Ogaard explained that very few bats have rabies. Although bats are the mammals most likely to carry the disease in Washington State, it is also found in raccoons, skunks, foxes or coyotes.

The Washington State Department of Health shows that 3-10% of tested bats are rabid. However, those bats tested are more likely to be rabies positive as they tend to be sick and injured; less than 1% of bats in the wild are infected with rabies.

A participant asked about the relationship between bats and the recent pandemic. Ogaard explained that although 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 to never handle wild animals and to teach children to do the same.[1]

Our insect-eating bats eat tons of insects every night. Without this natural bat control, nocturnal insects such as moths, beetles, flies and mosquitoes would invade us. Additionally, bat guano is one of the best fertilizers in the world and an important source of nutrients for other life in some cave systems.

On the Bats Northwest website, “Frugivorous bats disperse the seeds of plants essential to habitats such as the American Southwest deserts 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.

Silver haired bat

After a short slide show, Ogaard introduced the audience to Cleobatre, a silver-haired bat, his partner in education. After providing him with a mealworm, she walked around the room showing attendees the little creature happily munching while being admired by adults and children alike.

Cleobatra became an educational bat when she was found stuck to a hanging fly strip. Barbara was able to free her from her spell, but the little bat lost a layer of skin on her wings, preventing her from returning to the wild. An easy solution to prevent future wildlife losses, Ogaard says, is to make a small wire cage around the strip to allow insects in but keep birds and bats out.

Then Peggy and Sue, a Big Brown bat mother-daughter combo, came to Ogaard when mother Peggy had a butt wing. Explain that bats ovulate at the same time in September; she knew when she had Peggy in May that she was probably pregnant. Of course Sue came, and for now the couple will winter with her until she determines if they can be released or if they will stay with her and be educational bats like Cleobatre.

Big brown bat Photo credit: Matt Reinbold of Bismarck, ND, USA – Smile for the Camera, CC BY-SA 2.0

Ogaard ended his fascinating speech by explaining how we can all help Washington’s winged mammals. Habitat loss is one of the biggest 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 options due to issues with the post office, but boxes can be picked up at Magnuson Park. There are also instructions for making your own box on their website.

Garden Club president Leola Young tells me there will be another Bat Lady lecture soon, so don’t miss your chance to hear this interesting lady talk about these captivating creatures. Ogaard is set to retire soon, so this might be your last chance to encounter a bat up close in Snoqualmie Valley!


[1] Covid-19 is not found in bats in Washington State

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