Bats. They inspire strong emotion in almost everyone.
Some people hate bats with every inch of their being. Audubon naturalists used to teach programs about how to politely get rid of animals in the house. So many children had stories about bats being chased with bats, tennis rackets, and brooms. One child even told stories of bats being shot at in the house. (Yes, the teacher confirmed that this was likely true.)
Just so you know, the best way to get rid of a bat is to open a window or door and let them fly out. If that doesn't work, when the bat lands on a wall put a cup over it and slide a piece of paper under them to trap the bat in the cup. Take it outside and let it go.
Some people are passionate about bats. Bats are insect devouring flying machines that are so incredibly unique that some people can watch them for hours.
There are so many bat facts out there that are amazing. They are the only mammals that can fly. (Flying squirrels glide, in spite of their name.) They can eat hundreds of insects in a night, some books claim that little brown bats can eat 300 mosquitoes nightly and 20,000 mosquitoes in a year. All of our local bats are insectivores; they only eat insects. They use echolocation to find food. This is almost like bat radar, where they bounce sounds you cannot hear off of objects and follow the echoes to locate their food.
Those things are interesting, but they are not the reason I like bats. Some animals are just awe-inspiring to watch, and bats are one of them. One August evening, I hiked at Audubon a little later than I intended. Bats started flying everywhere. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of bats dipped and dove and flew over the ponds. Six bats that were the size of ruffed grouse flew off the side of the building. It was amazing, a cloud of ever-shifting bats as far as the eye could see.
The next night they were all gone. Four lonely bats were flying erratically over the ponds. This was bat migration. Many bats fly south for the winter. Most only fly far enough south that they can get to where the temperature hovers just above freezing and they can hibernate. If you can get out on that magical August night that they migrate, it is amazing.
I never tire of watching bats drink. They dive low over the pond and dip their mouths into the water. And no, local bats do not drink blood.
There are some amazing things that happen with bats and echolocation. When the bat bounces a sound off of a moth, some moths hear it and start flying in some evasive maneuvers. Some fly in zigzags or circles, others drop to the ground and stop moving. The scientists who discovered those moths learned about it at a party when they made their wine glasses sing, and somehow hit the same tones that the bats used. All the moths flying around the party dropped to the ground and a research project was born.
A recent issue of Pennsylvania Outdoor News had an article about the impact of bats on farming. This was something that had somehow never come up in discussions before. Across Pennsylvania last year, over 10,000 bats were killed by wind turbines. That's only 25 per turbine, but the numbers add up.
Bats eat enough insects in a night that the economic impact can be felt on a farm. Studies show that a lack of bats costs about $74 an acre in extra treatment for insects. Those 10,000 bats killed may have an economic impact rated at over $277 million in savings for farmers across the state.
Nationwide, bats are estimated to save farmers over $3 billion by disrupting the natural cycle of insects and eating millions of pounds of insects each year.
This is important, because bats have bigger threats than just windmills. White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a disease that affects bats where they hibernate. The disease causes bats to burn through their fat reserves faster during hibernation and die, though how it works and what causes the disease is still under investigation. Over 1 million bats have died from WNS since it was first observed near Albany in 2007.
Audubon will be holding a bat event on Oct. 29 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for people and families who want to learn more about bats. It costs $5 for Audubon members and $7 for non-members. There will be displays from Audubon, Chautauqua and the National Forest Service, crafts, and programs about bats, as well as an opportunity to build your own bat house. (The bat house kits are kid-friendly and can be built for just $15. Call 716-569-2345 if you want to reserve a bat house.)
Jeff Tome is a naturalist at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary, located at 1600 Riverside Road south of Jamestown, NY. There are many Audubon programs coming up for Adults and Families that can be found on their website, jamestownaudubon.com.