THE SCARIEST THING ABOUT BATS

When I open the barn door and step into our little greenhouse, I gaze lovingly at the plants growing there.  Then I get down to watering them with a yogurt container and a 5-gallon bucket.

I don’t pay attention to the concrete barn wall  while I’m working.  That’s why I got such a start last week when I looked up from watering baby spinach to find myself staring at a bat about a foot from my face.

...the Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) napping in my greenhouse

My instant reaction was fear – not for me, but for the little bat.  I was pleased to see it’s nose was not white, so it was probably still well.

I intend to put a bat house on the side of the barn. Bats are going to need all the help they can get.  Here is advice on attracting bats compliments of the Milwaukee County Zoo. These little fellows can put a huge dent in the insect population.  We often see them swooping about as evening draws on in the summer, but will they be there next summer?

The Chair of the Biology Department at University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Jeff Huebschman, told me recently that he fears for Wisconsin’s bats.

Purple shows confirmed cases in 2008-9. Red shows confirmed cases in 2009-10.

A fast-moving fungus is sweeping the country right now.  It has already decimated bat populations out east and is expected to infiltrate much of the Midwest and West this winter.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, white-nose syndrome was only discovered in February 2006 but already more than a million hibernating bats have died of it.

White-nose syndrome was discovered by a caver, and researchers fear the fungus is being spread by cavers.  Caves are being closed to slow it  down.  The U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region has issued an emergency order closing caves and abandoned mines on national forests and national grasslands in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

If you do go into a cave, there are protocols to follow, and they involve heavy-duty products like Lysol All-Purpose Professional Cleaner or boiling for 15 minutes.  Check it out here.

I was going to end on a hopeful note, Popular Science online reported today, “Bat Conference, Day 1: Students Rush to Front Lines in Battle to Save Bats.

Then I prowled on to a previous article on white-nose in Popular Science called “Racing to Save Bats From Catastrophic Extinction, Biologists Turn to New Tools.”

The article was sobering in itself, but if you really want a glimpse into the minds of those who just voted in all those folks who feel they can pick and chose which branch of science to “believe” — just check out about half of the comments in response to this article.  Oh my!

Little Brown Bat, keep on flying.

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10 replies

  1. Denise,

    Your post indicates just how much humans need to respect nature. Perhaps the cavers should concentrate instead on restoring above ground habitats, where human beings must act to restore (and extend) what is left of our beautiful natural heritage.

    Thanks for the continuing encouragement.

    • Very good point, John.
      I feel the same way, although I am a touch claustrophobic so I can’t relate to the draw caves hold to spelunkers. I do know that those delicate underground ecosystems can be damaged easily, and I am more than happy to spend my time above ground.
      It’s daunting to think of most of the bats in the Midwest going into hibernation this winter and never waking up.
      Did you check out the comments at the end of the Popular Science article I linked? The callous attitude toward bats and all of nature expressed by some readers was truly chilling.

  2. According to the USFWS and others studying the WNS problem, bats are the primary transmitters of the disease among themselves. There is not a single documented case of human transmission to date, yet the media and blogosphere persists in blaming cavers. Cavers are taking precautions, using cleaning and disinfecting of their clothing and gear following protocols of the USFWS that we have helped fund and research. You say you know that caves contain delicate underground ecosystems, and you are absolutely correct. Who provided this knowledge? The cave explorers and scientists who study and document it. We have worked diligently to protect and conserve bats, and are directly involved in field work, planning, and funding the research related to WNS. Check out the website at http://www.caves.org/WNS. Cavers leave bats alone – other unaffiliated casual cave visitors have a poor track record which includes the wanton and intentional slaughter of bats and serious vandalism that destroys delicate cave formations, leaves graffiti on beautiful rock walls, and litter and garbage everywhere, often threatening groundwater. It is bad conservation management to keep conservation-minded cavers away from the caves.

    • Thank you Peter. I think you are right. I let my own claustrophobia blind me to the value of cave exploration by scientific researching cavers who understand the whole situation. Your remarks are a good addition to my limited perspective.
      One of the reasons I blog is to learn from those who respond, and I have learned from you.
      Denise

  3. Thanks for the great post about bats in WI … but I think you left out a key piece of scientific data from the discussion:
    Bats Arent Bugs!

    • very funny, Della.
      I think we can turn to Calvin and Hobbes for many things.
      Accurate info on bats might not be one of them.
      🙂

  4. I have always loved reading Calvin and Hobbes; one of my favorite cartoons. Bulding a bat house is one of my winter projects for this year. When we first moved into our country home 10 years ago, a bat somehow got into the home. It was flying around frantically and we were trying equally frantically to get it out of the house. I don’t remember now what we did, but we did finally trap it and carry it outside where it could fly away.

    We now have five birdhouses wherein we watched chickadees, tree swallows, house wrens, and bluebirds grow. It was delightful! Need to build a couple more bird houses and and a couple bat houses. Great way to spend winter.

    Hey, our four chickens are laying eggs. Unfortunately, Gertrude (an Orpington) got lost today, as in I couldn’t find her! Finally heard some loud cackling behind the garden shed in among some wire fencing. Found two eggs! How she got in there (and out) I don’t know. She and I are going to have to have a serious face-to-face about where to lay eggs!

  5. What a fine flock of feathered friends!
    One of my favorite books involves a character who makes her humble living from Buff Orpingtons. Busman’s Holiday by Dorothy L. Sayer.
    I’m making my way way through Oak and finding it very interesting.
    Denise

  6. A bat got in our house once. The dog ran after it like crazy. We opened all of the doors and until it finally got out. I like them because they eat mosquitoes.

    • Hi Leslie,
      Yes, I have to admit that as much as I love to see bats flying about outside in the dusk and as much as I love how their appetite for mosquitoes improves my own comfort levels, I find it very stressful when one gets in the house.
      I’m sure they don’t like it as much as I don’t, and getting them back outside shoots to the top of my priority list. I can’t really relax until they are back outside, and it takes a little while to feel calm again.
      Of course I felt almost the same way when a bird has gotten into the house. Same top priority, but a little more anxiety with bats. All those childhood vampire movie images that painted bats as menacing do kick in even as my rational mind is rejecting them.
      Denise

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