Curiosity killed the bat: domestic cats as bat predators.
Domestic cats are suspected to have an impact on wild populations of birds and small mammals, but published reports of predation on bats are either rare or anecdotal. We based our study on 1012 records of bats admitted at four wildlife rescue centres in peninsular Italy in 2009-2011. We hypothesized that (1) cats prevalently prey on bats emerging from roosts, so newborns or non volant juveniles should be less exposed to predation; (2) because cats occur in human settlements, the bat species most frequently involved are house-roosting (3) predation is season-biased, most events being more likely to take place in summer when females congregate in roosts to reproduce; (4) predation events concentrate in sparse-urban and rural areas, where free-ranging cats occur more frequently; and (5) some individual cats may specialize in capturing bats. We found that predation by cats was the first cause of rescue for bats in the study area, accounting for 28.7% of records of adult bats admitted to rehabilitation centres. Although most bats caught by cats belonged to house-roosting species, at least 3 of the 11 species affected were tree- or cave-roosting. Predation affected more frequently adult females in summer and thus threatened reproductive colonies, which were often subjected to repeated predations. As predicted, predation events were associated with land cover, being more abundant in rural and sparse urban areas, where cats are more often allowed to stay outdoor, as confirmed by the results of a cat owner survey we carried out. Cats are explorative mammals, so they may be easily attracted at bat roosts by sensory cues involving sound, smell and vision. Our analysis covered a broad geographical area over a relatively long period and suggests that the threat posed to bats by cats may be significant and should be carefully considered in conservation plans. Strategies to mitigate this impact should encompass the control of feral cat populations and indoor restriction of owned cats at least where predation on bats is probable.