Monday, October 22, 2012

Batty About Bats!

Thanks to Nature Net Intern Sarah for this guest blog post!

Big brown bats
WI Bat Monitoring Program -

I have a confession to make: I'm batty about bats.

Ever since I was a small child when my father first read 
Stellaluna to me (the first time of many) after I learned "The Bat Song" at summer camp, I've had a fascination with these flying critters. Most people find them repugnant, but I don't. I LOVE bats! They have a total coolness factor - using echolocation to see in the dark and make maneuvers in the air like no other animal (except, perhaps, the hummingbird, which can hover, fly backwards, and even fly upside-down!) And it's not just because bats are both cool AND (I think) adorable, but they have another purpose as well - they eat my most dreaded enemy, the mosquito. For those of you not yet impressed with bats, take this into account: bats eat enough insects every year to save farmers between 3.7 and 53 billion dollars on pesticides. Now that's a lot of bugs!

I often take long walks at night, looking for the swooping curves and sleek flight patterns of my favored bats. There's just something about watching a bat in flight; they look so unburdened by the world and they move so fast, it's like watching a skilled dancer in the sky. No matter how down I'm feeling, it always manages to lift my spirits.

But to many people, bats are scary creatures. While I think it's somewhat ridiculous, I do understand their fears. First of all, many photos of bats show them hissing at the camera - but this is just an instinctual response to being faced with an unidentified bright glaring obstruction in the middle of an otherwise leisurely flight. Plus, there are some ugly rumors. For one, bats will not fly into or get tangled in your hair unless they are super sick, due to their echolocation using precise sound waves to map obstacles in their flight path.
Learn more "bat myths" here! However, I'm not just here to enthuse about bats (although I could go on for pages) - I'm here to say that bats are in danger. Instead of being scared of bats, we should actually be afraid for them. There are two major threats faced by bats these days: one is natural and the other man-made.

The first is white nose syndrome.

Some of you may have heard about white nose; it's a white fungus that usually starts on a bat's nose and then spreads to the wing membranes. Not only does this damage the wing membranes, but it also wakes up bats during hiberation and uses up their hibernation fat. The bats cannot fall back into hibernation and either starve or freeze to death during winter. The horrible thing about this is that white nose is spread through bat-to-bat contact, but also can be spread through boots or human clothing. Since many bats gather to winter in mass caves, the fungus is quickly spreading across the US. Since it was first discovered in the winter of 2006/2007, white nose has already killed over 5.5 million bats. Sad news.

And then there's the man-made danger: wind turbines.

It's not like the
bird problem, where the blades cut the poor creatures out of flight... bats and their smart navigational sense can usually avoid the turbines. It's what happens next that's the problem. A bat can dodge a wind turbine blade, but it can't dodge (or even predict) the change in the air pressure that follows the descent of the blade. This air pressure basically crushes the bats' lungs and the bats drown in the air, or it stuns them long enough to get hit by a turbine blade and smacked into the ground. Either way, it's not a pretty way to go. Fortunately, Bat Conservation International (BCI), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy (NREL) have all teamed up to create the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (, dedicated to help save our bats while we study and use clean energy.

And just a note: despite my everlasting love for bats, I must warn you that they are wild animals and that you should never pick one up or cuddle it, no matter how cute it may be! Bats can carry diseases that are bad for humans, and getting up close and personal with wild animals in general is a big no-no. If you find a hibernating bat DO NOT WAKE IT. I cannot stress that enough. Waking up a hibernating animal will use up its extra fat reserves which means that it cannot go back into hibernation and it will
usually die. Especially with the threats mentioned above, we don't need any more unnecessary bat deaths - especially if we want any relief from mosquito-filled summers!

I hope I've helped improve the reputation of my furry friends - or at least interested you into learning more about these unique and threatened creatures of the night! If so, you may want to check out one of these great events this week, where you are sure to encounter more on these winged wonders:
  • Fall Fest at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Friday Oct. 26, 5:30-7:30pm
  • Beakers and Broomsticks at the Madison Children's Museum, Friday Oct. 26, 6-9pm
  • Haunted Hayride at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center, Friday and Saturday Oct. 26-27, 6:30-9:30pm
  • Halloween at the Farm at Dane County's Schumacher Farm Park, Saturday, Oct. 27, 6-9pm

Looking for more? Here are some links about bats in Wisconsin!
Red bat
WI Bat Monitoring Program -