Often unseen and misunderstood, at least 13 species of bats make South Dakota their home. All of South Dakota's bat species are small, insect-eating mammals providing valuable pest control services. Although superficially similar-looking to mice, bats are more closely related to shrews and have a life strategy that is quite different than the typical rodent. Bats are long-lived with some species living up to 30 years. Reproductive potential is low. Bats reproduce only once a year and the most fecund species successfully raise 2-3 pups; most species raise only one pup a year. Navigation, foraging and sometimes communication are done by echolocating. Individuals emit ultrasonic sounds waves (typically inaudible to the human ear) and study the returning echoes to find their way and find their prey. Despite their extensive use of echolocation, bats are not blind.
Bats are found throughout South Dakota with some species having a state-wide distribution and others are found in habitats present only in Western South Dakota, such as the Black Hills and Badlands. Insect prey is largely unavailable during the cold winter months and bats respond by either entering into a state of torpor or leaving.
During the winter bats experience a dramatic drop in body temperature and metabolic rate. This allows efficient use of energy stores (body fat) that has to last them throughout the winter, which as any life-long South Dakotan can attest to can be quite variable in length. Hibernating bats will form clusters in locations with specific temperature and moisture levels such as caves and abandoned mines. These microclimate conditions help bats while in their state of torpor. Winter survival can be precarious as even minimal disturbance (entering a cave) that results in arousal from torpor will reduce a bats chance of survival. The best and simplest thing you can do to help conserve bats during the winter is to not disturb hibernating bats.
Migratory bats (Eastern Red Bat, Hoary Bat and Silver-haired Bat) simply leave when the weather gets too cold and insects are unavailable. Much remains unknown about bat migration, but most migrate to the southern United States and Mexico to spend the winter.
- "Bats of the Black Hills: A Description of Status and Conservation Needs" by Joel Tigner and Eileen Dowd Stukel
- "Townsend’s Big-eared Bat" by Eileen Dowd Stukel
- "See You in the Spring" by Silka L. F. Kempema
- "Tree Bats" by Eileen Dowd Stukel
Sometimes an individual bat will inadvertently make its way inside your home. If there's a bat in your house, help the bat get back outside by closing all interior access to the room and leave open exterior windows or doors to allow the bat to get back outside. If that is not possible, wear leather gloves and gently capture the animal in a small box or container and release the bat outside in an area protected from people and pets.
During the summer, groups of female bats may gather in homes or buildings to bear and rear young. These structures provide warm temperatures and have access (holes as small as 0.25") for entry and exit. Bats in buildings are seasonal residents. These nursery roosts are maintained until the young bats can fly on their own. Bats that move into wooden structures during the spring will move out in the fall. It is important to note that unlike mice, bats will not chew holes to gain access into a building.
Bats are afforded protection in South Dakota and GFP is very interested in conserving hibernation sites and nursery roosts as bats are quite sensitive during these times. If the right conditions are provided bats will return to these same sites year after year. However, because bats may occur near people in homes or other buildings and are known to sometimes carry rabies, we strongly encourage voluntary cooperation from homeowners and property owners to use humane bat exclusion practices and to ask GFP or other bat biologists for advice if they discover a hibernation site or nursery roost. If you have excluded bats from your home but still want to have bats in your area, build a bat house!
More information on responsible bat exclusion practices and bat house plans:
- "Bats in Buildings” by Joel Tigner,
- "Bats in the Belfry” by Eileen Dowd Stukel and Joel Tigner,
- South Dakota Bat Working Group and
- Bat Conservation International
Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of mammals. Humans contract the disease from pets and wildlife (including bats) through the bite of an infected animal or some other exchange of saliva or blood. Most bats do not carry rabies and it is difficult if not impossible to tell if a bat has rabies unless confirmed in a laboratory. The bite of a bat can often go undetected. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies through the bite of a bat or are uncertain, the animal should be captured (see BATS IN BUILDINGS section) and tested. Without medical attention, rabies can be fatal. The South Dakota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control have more information on rabies.
White-nose syndrome (WNS)
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease that affects hibernating bats in the eastern half of North America. It is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd). In February of 2006, a photograph of hibernating bats with strange white fuzz became the first piece of evidence of a disease that has killed over 5.5 million bats.
Much has been learned about Pd and the disease since its discovery, but even more remains a mystery. Originally described as Geomyces destructans, this cold-loving fungus causes a skin infection and looks like white fuzz on the nose, ears, and membranes of the wings and tail of infected bats. Pd is found in cold and humid (>90%) environments, growing within a temperature range of 40-68 F making caves and mines ideal environments for this fungus.
- National response to WNS (https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org)
- "White-nose Syndrome in Bats” by Silka L. F. Kempema
- Map of WNS spread
- Information for cavers in the Black Hills
Threats to bats in South Dakota include misinformation, misunderstanding or a lack of information about bats, loss and degradation of habitat (both natural and human-made habitats), inadequate protection of bats and their habitats, energy development and disease.
GFP strives to conserve bats through cooperation. Our agency is involved with the South Dakota Bat Working Group (SDBWG). This group strives to "...protect bats and bat habitat through action, education and cooperation with Federal, State, Tribal, and private landowners." A product of this cooperation is the South Dakota Bat Management Plan. The main goal of this plan is to provide guidance promoting long-term conservation of South Dakota bat species through research, management, and education. The plan provides general information on bats in the state, identifies threats, research, management and educational needs as well as basic information on species found in the state.
No estimates of bat population sizes are available for South Dakota. Similarly, little information exists regarding indices of population trends. However, those working with bats in the state have observed decreases in the numbers of bats over the last couple of decades suggesting decreasing populations. Efforts are underway to address the lack of bat population data. The North American Bat Monitoring Program is an effort to develop a national program to monitor and track bat populations on this continent. This statistically-rigorous and nationally coordinated bat monitoring program will help to evaluate the impacts of stressors and efficacy of management actions on bat populations.
Bats are known to be susceptible to direct strikes with wind turbine blades. Migratory tree-roosting bats account for most of the bat mortalities recorded at wind farms in North America including red bat, hoary bat and silver-haired bat. However, other bat species are also susceptible to direct strikes with turbines (i.e. big brown bat, etc.). The reasons why these species are particularly susceptible is unknown.
The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative is an alliance of state and federal agencies, private industry, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations that cooperate to avoid or minimize bat mortality at wind turbines.
Cooperation between the South Dakota Bat Working Group and SDGFP also produced siting guidelines for wind energy developers and other stakeholders to utilize as they consider potential wind power sites in South Dakota. This document addresses many of the concerns involved with siting wind power projects in South Dakota.
The Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This species occurs state-wide in South Dakota, but is most commonly found in the Black Hills and along riparian corridors such as the Missouri River. No bat species are state listed.
The South Dakota Natural Heritage Program (SDNHP) is part of NatureServe, an international network of biological inventories that monitor species at risk. Species that are monitored by SDNHP are declining and restricted to limited habitat, have populations that are isolated or disjunct due to geographic or climatic factors, peripheral to a jurisdiction or considered rare only because of lack of survey work. For more information in-depth information on these and other species tracked by the NatureServe network visit Explorer. Six of South Dakota's bat species are monitored by the SDNHP.
The South Dakota Wildlife Action Plan identifies 101 wildlife species in need of conservation because they are 1) state or federal listed species, 2) species for which South Dakota represents an important portion of their remaining range or 3) have characteristics that make them vulnerable. Three of South Dakota's bat species are listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
Individuals involved in research, survey work, collection or handling of wildlife species in South Dakota are required to possess a Scientific Collectors Permit. A Scientific Collectors Permit is required for both live and dead specimens. If collection is occurring for research purposes, applicants should submit a permit application and research proposal if available. Those that are conducting bat research must also comply with GFP's Bat Sampling and Collection Protocol Guidelines
Are you an educator? Borrow a Bat Critter Crate from SDGFP or visit BATSLive! BATSLive! is a free distance-learning program that highlights the use of technological media to reach children, educators, land managers and the public. It also serves as a clearinghouse of bat education resources including sample curriculums, lesson plans, videos and posters as well as multiple links to other bat-related information.
"Bat Conservation International is dedicated to the enduring protection of the world’s 1300+ species of bats and their habitats and creating a world in which bats and humans successfully coexist."
Purchase the book Wild Mammals of South Dakota. Published in 2000, this book covers the 95 species of wild mammals that live in South Dakota. Information on identification, habits, habitat and distribution is provided for each species, including bats. An identification key specific to bats is also included.
- Listed as federal threatened under the Endangered Species Act
- Monitored by the South Dakota Natural Heritage Program
- Identified by the South Dakota Wildlife Action Plan as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need