Let Sleeping Bats Lie – Here’s WhyWritten by Scott Carpenter | | firstname.lastname@example.org
More than one homeowner this holiday season has been surprised to find something better suited for Halloween mixed in with the tinsel and bulbs stowed in their attic – a sleepy little bat.
Three big brown bats – the most common bat found in northwest Ohio – have been brought to Nature’s Nursery recently after being discovered in someone’s Christmas decorations.
“A lot of people have bats living in their attic,” said Laura Zitzelberger, executive director of the wildlife rehabilitation center, which is located at Metroparks Blue Creek Conservation Area in Whitehouse.
Winter is prime time to find bats indoors or under piles of leaves sleeping away the winter. If you do find one, Zitzelberger advises that it’s best to leave it sleep, if possible. Disturbing its hibernation could be fatal to the animal, and come spring, it will find its way out the way it got in.
Let’s face it, bats aren’t likely to make many people’s list of favorite wildlife. Fear of bats leads to many of them being killed or chased out into the cold.
“People tend to have strong opinions about them,” said Jessica Sewald, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at Bowling Green State University, who has spent a great deal of time with the fuzzy, flying mammals.
But Sewald thinks the more people know about bats, the more protective of them they are likely to become.
For example, bats are probably not as large and scary as people perceive them to be in the moonlight. “The biggest bat in North America weighs less than an Altoids can,” Sewald said. And despite their infamously menacing image, just three out of the more than 1,100 known species of bats are the “vampire” variety – and they are found only in Latin America. (For the record, “They don’t ‘drink’ blood – they lap it up like a dog,” she added.)
Two other bat myths to dispel:
- Bats are “carriers” of rabies. Not true, said Sewald. Just one-half of one percent of bats contract rabies, about the same as any other mammal. Bats are no more prone to rabies than a any other wild animal, she said, adding that like other animals, bats die from the disease; they don’t “carry” it.
- Bats attack. Any cornered or sick animal will defend itself, and bats can bite. If a bat is easily approachable, it is probably sick and people should keep their distance. But, Sewald said, stories of bats swooping down to attack people are exaggerated. The little animals aren’t going to go out of their way to pick a fight. More likely, a swooping bat is simply snatching insects from the air.
That brings up one of the key benefits of bats: They are bug-eating machines. One big brown bat can consume up to 1,200 mosquito-sized, night-flying insects per hour. “That’s the equivalent of us eating 50 pizzas a day,” Sewald said. A pregnant or nursing bat may eat its body weight in insects each night, including many agricultural pests.
If that’s not enough to make you love bats, consider this: without bats, there would be no margaritas. Long-nose bats are the main pollinator of the agave plant from which tequila is distilled. Various species of bats also pollinate bananas, avocados, dates, figs, peaches, mangoes, cloves, cashews balsa wood and other flowering plants.
Sewald, accompanied by four undergraduate students, spent many nights, five hours at a time, from mid-May through August last year catching bats in nets at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark for a study that she said is intended to “identify what’s here and where.
“The first step in conserving a species is to study where they’re at and what their numbers are,” she said. She’s also on the lookout for white nose syndrome, a disease that causes bats to wake up early from hibernation, causing many to die.
Already she’s identified eight species, mostly big brown bats, followed by little browns and reds, but so far has not come across an Indiana bat, which is an endangered species.
Karen Menard, a supervisor in the Land Management Department at Metroparks, said research is one of the lesser-known uses of the Metroparks, attracting students and professions from a wide variety of disciplines. Recent research has focused on box turtles at Oak Openings, the lobelia plant at Swan Creek Preserve and Pearson, soils in the Wildwood floodplain and mammals at Wildwood and Oak Openings. Everything from wasps to badgers have been studied at Oak Openings, the largest and most unique natural area in the park system.
Sewald said she hopes to continue her bat research this summer.
“I’m very interested in education, and bats are one of those species you can use in education,” she said.
For more information about bats, Sewald and Zitzelberger recommend www.batcon.org, the website of Bat Conservation International.
Scott Carpenter is director of public relations for Metroparks of the Toledo Area.