Pine Cone or Bat?
EASTERN RED BATS hang from trees in ingenious disguise.
Texas is home to more bat species (33) than any other state. While these misunderstood mammals are often demonized in pop culture, they are intelligent and interesting creatures with unique abilities. Some people aren’t aware of bats’ important contribution: These hungry flyers keep insect populations down, helping maintain nature’s delicate balance.
Eastern red bats — found in abundance in East and Central Texas — are tree-roosting forest dwellers (unlike their cave-dwelling cousins) and are often solitary. Weighing only one-quarter to one-half ounce, these bats are around 4 inches long with a wingspan of 13 inches.
Unlike the short, felt-like fur of the more common Mexican free-tailed bat, eastern reds have long, silky fur. True to their name, these mammals are gingers, all the way to the tips of their furry tails.
Not surprisingly, the genus name for these bats — Lasiurus — is derived from the Greek lasios (hairy) and oura (tail). The adult males sport a deeper shade of red than the females; both have white-tipped fur, giving them a “frosted” look. While hanging upside-down, this coloring helps disguise them as pine cones or dead leaves.
Eastern red bats usually emerge in early evening to feed on moths and other insects, using echolocation (biological sonar) to find their prey, sometimes following the same route every night. While many winged predators catch their prey by mouth, this bat somersaults in the air and uses its wings and tail to close around its prey. The bat reaches down into the pouch it creates to eat the moth, beetle or other insect before flying on.
While these bats hibernate during the winter, they sometimes sneak out on a warm winter evening for a snack.
Female eastern red bats have four mammary glands instead of two, and can give birth to four pups. Many other bat species give birth to only a single pup.
Texas has a year-round population of red bats; in other parts of the U.S., they are migratory.
Although not listed as endangered species, the migratory eastern red bat faces threats from natural predators (opossums and raptors) and from collisions with tall buildings, wind turbines and barbed wire. Eastern red bats can carry the spores of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, but none have been discovered with the disease.
Abbott Nature Photography
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