Unfortunately when most people think of bats they are horrified with images of Dracula sucking the blood out of some poor woman’s neck. They think of the caped crusader in the Bat Mobile saving Gotham City once again from the evil clutches of the Joker, a nocturnal creature flying into your hair and getting tangled up in it, or the good old Louisville slugger. To the surprise of many, bats are incredibly important and their demise will certainly create a negative ripple effect in the natural order of things. First, let me introduce you to bats. No, not the baseball kind, but the furry little mammal.
Bats are the only flying mammal, found in nearly every habitat throughout Ohio. There are 13 species of bats recorded in Ohio; the most commonly encountered species generally include Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) and Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus). Recently, you may have read in the paper about the Long Eared Bat and the Indiana Bat, both are endangered species in Ohio and research is under way to help preserve our remaining populations. Unfortunately, more than half of the bat species in the United States are in severe decline or listed as endangered. There are 1,100 species of bats worldwide, making up one-quarter of the world’s mammal population. There are forty different species of bats in the United States. There are only three species of “vampire bats”, bats that live off the blood of animals. None of those species lives in the United States. Bats are generally small but the Giant Flying Foxes or Fruit Bats of Indonesia have a wing span of six feet. Bats are very clean animals, and groom themselves almost constantly (when not eating or sleeping) to keep their fur soft and clean, like tiny cats. Purr Purr Purr
Typically, bats have two types of sites used for gathering and, yes, it might be a “bat cave”; a winter hibernation site and summer roosting site. Some bats migrate south for the winter, while others hibernate through the cold winter months. During hibernation, bats can survive in freezing temperatures, even after being encased in ice. Sound very familiar to the wood frogs? Unfortunately, this is the time when bats are most susceptible to “white nose syndrome.” Bats can enter buildings by using existing openings and cracks as small as 3/8 inch to roost in attics. Shag Bark Hickory trees are also a favorite summer roosting site for many bats. The summer roosts for maternal colonies, females and their flightless offspring, are usually where humans encounter large numbers of bats. During the summer, pregnant females are often found congregating in human-made structures where conditions are warm, dry, and dark. Babies are born in May and June and while baby bats have a quick growth rate, flying as soon as three weeks after birth, it can take six to nine weeks for babies to completely wean from their mothers. Bat mothers can find their babies among thousands or millions of other bats by their unique voices and scents. Most bats have only one pup a year, making them extremely vulnerable to extinction.
Ok, folks, now it is time to be amazed by these creatures and truly see why they are so important to our natural balance. Bats can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour, and often consume their body weight in insects every night! The 30 million Mexican Free-Tailed bats from Bracken Cave in Texas eat 250 TONS of insects every summer night. They sometimes fly up to two miles high to feed or to catch tailwinds that carry them over long distances and can fly at speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. A single colony of 150 Big Brown Bats can protect local farmers from up to 33 million or more rootworms each summer. A nursing little brown bat mother can eat more than her body weight nightly (up to 4,500 insects). As you can see without a healthy bat population we would need to bathe in Off if we wanted to enjoy any time outside during the summer. In some parts of the world, bats are as important as bees in pollination of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
Nearly 40% of American bat species are in severe decline or already listed as endangered or threatened. This is partly due to “white nose syndrome” (WNS), a fungus that is decimating bat populations in the northeast, including here in Geauga County. Initially WNS was found in upstate New York in 2007. Unfortunately it is spreading west at an alarming rate. White-nose syndrome is a disease affecting hibernating bats; named for the white fungus that appears on the muzzle and other parts of hibernating bats. Bats with WNS act strangely during cold winter months. Instead of hibernating the bats become active, flying outside during the day and clustering near the entrances of caves and other hibernation areas. This activity causes bats to use up their fat reserves and with no insect to eat they die during the cold winter days. In some cases 90%-100% of bat population in a given hibernation areas have died from WNS. It is estimated WNS has killed more than 5.7 million bats in eastern North America.
So next time you see a bat, hopefully you can appreciate, and maybe even enjoy, their subtle beauty instead of trying to kill it with a broom or tennis racket!
One final note, Matt, and I want to congratulate the Portage Park District and Director Chris Craycroft on the passage of the Park District Levy. The passage of the levy will ensure more areas to go out and enjoy Nearby Nature!
More Nearby Nature
Magic in the Woods: Dragons Breath & the Disappearing Creek – May 23
A trek in search of the an unusual magical plant material that grows in the magnificent old growth forest of the Hiram College Field Station. An actual demonstration of the “magic” will take place at the fire circle next to the disappearing creek. Meet at the field station (5:00-7:00pm). Hiking fee: FREE for members of Friends of the Field Station ($8 for non-members). Call 330.569.6003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
Summer Youth Art at Hiram College – June 9-13
Get creative at Hiram’s Summer Youth Art. Join local art teacher Libby Frato-Sweeney and Hiram College students as they plan fun and creative arts and crafts for children ages preschool through middle school. For more information, call 330.569.6003 or email email@example.com.
Hiram College Nature Camps – Summer 2014
Catching crawdads! Spying on snakes! Collecting insects! Making forts! All in a day of fun and excitement for kids ages 3-14 at Hiram College Nature Camps. Call 330.569.6003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for dates and times.
Adventure Expeditions: The Grand Canyon of the East – July 18-20
Explore a personal connection to nature through hiking, camping, and canoeing expeditions into remote back country and remarkably beautiful natural areas. Each expedition is designed to challenge participants physically and emotionally through group discussions and journaling on topics such as self-motivation, community living, leadership, wilderness skills, and communication. This expedition will take high school students to the “Grand Canyon of the East” (PA). For information, call 330.569.6003 or email email@example.com.