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

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks says that there are thirteen 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.

Common Name
Scientific Name
Red bat Lasiurus borealis
Hoary bat Lasiurus cinereus
Silver-haired bat Lasionycteris noctivagans
Northern long-eared Myotis Myotis septentrionalis
Little brown Myotis Myotis lucifugus
Western small-footed bat Myotis ciliolabrum
Fringe-tailed Myotis Myotis thysanodes pahasapensi
Long-eared Myotis Myotis evotis
Long-legged Myotis Myotis volans
Big brown bat Eptesicus fuscus
Townsend's big-eared bat Corynorhinus townsendii
Evening bat Nycticeius humeralis
Eastern pipistrelle Perimyotis subflavus

They'll 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 mosquito 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.

Rabies often drives fear of bats. But, according to the South Dakota Bat Working Group, "...less than 1% of bats actually contract rabies. Skunks, badgers, dogs, cats, cows, and even horses are more likely to have rabies than any bat that you see flying through your neighborhood!" However they sat that to be on the safe side never touch any wild animal, especially of its hurt.

Threats to bat populations in South Dakota include destruction of habitat. When they lose their nesting places the migratory bats tend to not return and the others move on, and therefor 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 on bats hibernating in cold and damp places, like caves The disease has killed over five million bats.

Bats are fascinating creatures, and it's surprising how little is known about them. But, as more knowledge is gained every year and we learn more about how important they are to South Dakota.

Source: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks