There are lots of things that people find yucky, icky and gross, and I have used this column on occasion to discuss a few of those things. Sometimes I get on my soapbox to rant about litter, dumping unwanted items in the storm drain, unnecessary plowing of farm fields, inappropriate spreading of manure, lack of recycling, dog poop and more.
Today I want to share the facts about something that many people find distasteful – bats! Bats get a bad rap with their homely faces and hairless wings. They are always portrayed in movies as evil blood-sucking creatures, ensnaring themselves in people’s hair, and infecting people with rabies. I want to set the record straight.
Some of the problem with bats is they are active at night and are therefore a mystery to most people. Bats are on the same level as snakes and spiders, two other species that perform useful functions but are often vilified by humans. Bats are vital to the environment worldwide. Bats facilitate the pollination and/or assist with dispersal of bananas, avocados, dates and cashews — all foods I happen to love. In Ohio all bats are insectivorous and eat flying insects that they catch on the fly. Because bats are nocturnal, they feed one or two hours after sunset and before sunrise. I love to watch this feeding at night; it is a real sign that summer is here.
Bats are mammals — which means they have a backbone, are warm-blooded, have hair on their bodies and produce milk to feed their young. Bats are the only mammal capable of flight. Contrary to popular belief, bats are not blind. Because they are nocturnal, it is not easy for them to see and so they use echolocation to navigate and find food. Bats emit high-frequency sounds which bounce off objects in the environment and return to the bats’ ears. They use the information gained from the speed and direction of the returning sound signals to pinpoint and identify prey. One Indiana bat eats up to half its body weight in insects each night!
Unfortunately, bats are suffering due to white nose syndrome, a disease responsible for high mortality in hibernating bats. It is associated with a fungus which often grows into white tufts on the muzzles of infected bats. It is believed that white nose syndrome occurs through bat-to-bat transmission and by humans visiting caves and mines where they may transfer the fungus on clothing, shoes and gear. Researchers are working to find ways to prevent the spread of this insidious disease.
In the meantime, you can do your part for Ohio’s bats by not disturbing them during hibernation, managing your woods, ponds and streams for bat habitat, and using integrated pest management to reduce pesticide use in your lawns, flower beds and vegetable gardens.
Now that the days are longer and the temperatures are rising, grab a lawn chair and enjoy the bat-feeding spectacle in the evening sky. And while you are there, thank them for helping to control the mosquitoes and other flying pesky insects.
Great information about Ohio’s bats can be found in the Mammals of Ohio Field Guide produced by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.
Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.