This summer my kids became fascinated with the bats that flew over our backyard at twilight. We'd watch for them near the streetlight swooping in for a feast of moths and mosquitoes. We'd look for their distinctive floppy-flying style and listen for their high-pitched chatter.

There are 12 species of bats that call South Dakota home. Eleven of them can be found in eastern South Dakota and all but one (The Evening Bat) can be found in the west. Bats are not blind, they have functioning eyes but also use ultrasonic sounds for echolocating when hunting and flying.

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They live in trees or buildings, and in western South Dakota, they are fond of the caves and old mines in the Black Hills. Some of the species hibernate through our cold winters and others like the Eastern Red Bat, Hoary Bat, and Silver-haired Bat, take the snowbird route and head south.

All the bats in South Dakota are bug eaters. They eat tons of mosquitoes alone every year. And good for them, that's free pest control. They can eat as much as half their own body weight a night.

Threats to bat populations in South Dakota include the destruction of habitat. When they lose their nesting places the migratory bats tend not to return and the others move on, and therefore do not eat the bugs.

Also, a disease called White-Nose Syndrome is killing hibernating bats. It's caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd). Pd thrives in the cold and causes skin infections in bats hibernating in cold and damp places, like cavesThe disease has killed over five million bats.

Bats are fascinating creatures, and as more knowledge is gained we learn more about how important they are to South Dakota.

Source: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

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