Only one of several species of bat living in South Dakota appear on the threatened or endangered species, the northern long-eared bat. It sits among a list of only four mammals that currently have protected status due to threatened or endangered populations in South Dakota, including the black-footed ferret, the gray wolf, and the swift fox. The northern long-eared bat is protected nationwide due to its threatened status.
In recent years the protection of bats has become a major concern. As a non-game species and non-fur-bearing species of animal, bats are protected by State regulations to a degree. They enjoy the same level of protection as other non-game species, meaning that without State permission, they cannot be killed unless they have entered a person’s home. But they can be humanely removed and relocated.
In many ways, this is good news for the bat but also bad news considering the limitations of these regulations. Overhunting is less a concern for the bat than a wide range of other threats to their populations.
Bats in South Dakota
Over a dozen bat species live in the South Dakota region, from the Black Hills to the eastern plains. Many species migrate in and out of the state depending on the time of year or winter in the many cave formations, vacant buildings, forests, or other structures with an exceptionally effective method of hibernation torpor. From the most common species, the big brown bat, to the threatened northern long-eared myotis, here is a list of the known species of bat that call South Dakota home.
- Big brown bat
- Hoary bat
- Silver-haired bat
- Evening bat
- Little brown myotis
- Western small-footed bat
- Northern long-eared myotis
- Long-legged myotis
- Evening bat
- Eastern pipistrelle
- Black Hills fringed myotis
- Townsend’s big-eared bat
- Western small-footed bat
- Red bat
- Indiana bat
- spotted bat
- Mexican free-tailed bat
- Pallid bat
More to know about bat species
South Dakota bats are insectivores, meaning they subside primarily on insects. They are the only species of mammal that has mastered self-powered flight. Though bats resemble flying mice, they are not rodents but a species probably more closely related to other mammals such as dogs, cats, and even people.
One way of telling this is by their teeth, which feature canine teeth to chew through the hard exoskeletons of their prey, rather than rodent teeth which grow continually to gnaw through vegetation such as grasses, wood, and other cellulose.
Bats are primarily nocturnal, using echolocation to navigate in the dark. Unlike popular culture often depicts, bats are not blind but rely more on echolocation than eyesight to catch flying insects and navigate deep caves and other habitats where light cannot reach them. Many bats consume their body weight in insects every night they hunt and help keep mosquitoes and other flying insect populations under control.
Studies about bats reveal that they are very social mammals but very shy when it comes to interactions with other species. Depending on the type of bat, they live in small families or massive colonies, usually protected by caves. They often sleep or hibernate suspended from the ceiling of these caves and structures for their protection, give birth to live offspring and care for their young for the first few months of their lives until they can fly and hunt.
Benefits of bat populations
Bat populations eat insects that are considered harmful to people, livestock, and crops. Some bats are effective pollinators, helping fertilize flowers and crops through pollen caught in their fur. They can also disperse seeds in a similar way. Unfortunately for bats, another benefit is seeing how environmental pollution and damage affect an area since bats are often one of the first species to move or die off.
Importance of conservation
One of the biggest threats to bat species is the destruction of their habitat. Deforestation, pesticide use, and even toxins in ever-increasing monoculture agriculture are killing bats annually. Some forms of disease, especially white-nose syndrome, are believed to be driven by environmental change.
This disease affects bats by suffocating them as they are in hibernation. The impact of bat population decline is still yet unknown. Still, as with any member of an ecosystem, the loss of one species generally means a widespread impact, affecting the entire ecosystem.
Disturbing bat habitats, especially areas where colonies are roosting, can lead to mother bats dropping their pups before they are ready to move. The orphaned bat pups starve to death and die of exposure during this crucial period, usually two months after birth, during the summer months.
Are bats protected in South Dakota? It’s a work in progress
Misinformation and ignorance are also contributing factors to the decline in bat populations. Unlike what popular culture has promoted, bats are not blood-drinking, disease-carrying vermin. In 2001, out of over 400 big brown bats studied, less than 20 carried rabies, about 4% of the sample group–the same as dogs.
Horses and cattle were at 15% and 10%, respectively, and skunks were at 67%. But because of misconceptions about bats, they are often illegally poisoned, or their habitats are destroyed.
Without an endangered or protected status, bats are protected through habitat management, research, and education. The more people learn about bats, the better they can appreciate their part in the balance of the ecosystem and the importance of the role they play in it. Even without laws forbidding the destruction of their habitats, armed with information, people can understand how unnecessary it is to harm bats.
Central Plains Bat Removal knows the importance of bats to our environment and how harmful treating them the same as an invasive species of pest is unnecessary and dangerous. We humanely remove and relocate bats whenever possible in the South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa areas.
If you encounter bats in your home, business, or outbuildings, rather than endanger their lives–and even your safety–contact us for a free quote and let the professionals do the work. Our team of specialists is certified and insured. We care about our clients and the bats we share our world with.