Ramblings on Bats, Bat Houses and White-Nose Syndrome

Little brown bat
Wings of brown bat

The wings of a brown bat. Credit for above bat photos: Chris Slesar, Environmental Specialist Supervisor, Vermont Agency of Transportation. Photos were taken during bat survey to determine whether bats were using area bridges for roosting.

I think bats fall into a special category of wildlife creatures — those that are so ugly, they’re kind of cute. Bats look like airborne mice with pointy ears and spindly wings. As a kid, I was scared of them. Someone told me bats like to fly into people’s hair. If I heard the sound of approaching wings at night, I would cover my head with my hands and duck down. Thankfully, a bat has never flown into my hair, although a moth once flew into  my ear. (This required a visit to the medical clinic where I had to lie on my side while the nurse poured mineral oil into my ear to smother the moth. Having a moth flapping around inside your ear is extremely unpleasant, but having to hear it slowly die next to your eardrum is much worse.)

Bats are very beneficial because they keep the insect population in balance. Any creature that reduces the amount of mosquitos is welcome in my neighborhood. It’s fun to see bats haphazardly swooping around when it starts getting dark outside. Most of the time I see bats at a distance, but I had the opportunity to observe a bat more closely when one decided to take up temporary residence under an awning at our church. Every time we would pass in or out of the church door, we would see the bat hanging just a few feet away.

Many folks, especially in rural areas, install bat houses on their property to encourage bats to hang around. Mounting a bat house in a fairly sunny location, in close proximity to a water source, increases your chance of occupation by bats. For those who are handy, the University of Nebraska provides detailed instructions on constructing and installing a bat house.

Recently, the talk about bats has gotten serious. A stream of news articles have been published about a disease affecting bats. This problem was first discovered in upstate New York and has since spread to nearly 20 states and northward into Canada. Scientists believe the disease, called White-Nose Syndrome, could wipe out hibernating bats. They have discovered that a fungus is most likely the cause. What a shame it would be if this disease continues fatally spreading among the population of bats.

If there has been a decline in the bat population where I live, I can’t tell. A few months ago, I videotaped an active swarm of bats near the Delaware & Raritan Canal (see below). On the contrary, what I thought were bats flying around a nearby athletic field were actually killdeer birds Hopefully the impact of White-Nose Syndrome can be thwarted quickly, not only so bats can maintain their mosquito-eating ways, but also so we can continue to appreciate these ugly-yet-cute flying creatures. Comments?

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6 responses to “Ramblings on Bats, Bat Houses and White-Nose Syndrome

  1. Great post. I admit I have kind of a bat obsession. I’ve had a few favorite spots over the years, in different places I’ve lived, where I could count on some bat flyovers come dusk.

    btw: I can’t even imagine what it was like to go through that moth-in-the-ear experience!

  2. Thanks Ingrid. The moth thing wasn’t fun, but it definitely could have been worse!

  3. They are so much smaller than I imagined. My son built a bat box, but we haven’t had any visitors yet.

  4. Hi. We have recently launched a nonprofit initiative to raise funds solely for white-nose syndrome research and conservation efforts, thru donations and the sale of batstuff.
    We need the support of all those who appreciate and value bats. Please visit http://fightwns.org
    Thank you

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