Wednesday, October 01, 2014
   
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BATS Biologist

They swoop into Halloween festivities but are mostly harmless

Through the years, they’ve been associated with demons and devils and the living dead.

Around Halloween, many people may think of vampire bats and associate them with Count Dracula and other frightening characters who suck blood from victims.

Part of that myth may come from the fact that many bat species live in underground caves, according to biologist Mark Peyton of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District.

In reality, Peyton says, bats are important creatures in the ecosystem.

“Bats eat bugs. Lots and lots of bugs,” he says, noting that birds called martins are bug eaters as well. “But the number of bugs a martin eats in a day pales compared to the number a bat eats at night.”

More than 1,000 insects for one bat on a good feeding night.

Another attribute of the bat is that waste, or guano, works as an outstanding fertilizer, he adds

Bats are harmless, for the most part.

“Yes, they can bite but won’t unless you are handling them,” he explains. “They can also carry rabies but if you leave them alone, that won’t be a problem for you.”

Peyton dispels a common myth that bats fly into people’s hair.

“They may fly around your head but that’s probably because there are mosquitoes or other bugs flying there,” he says.

In Gothenburg, bats are most often seen just after dark or shortly before dawn as they feed under street lights.

Peyton says there are 45 species of bats in the United States, 13 in Nebraska and at least five types he’s identified in Gothenburg.

He’s been called to remove a Mexican free-tail bat from the entrance of a bank and has had a number of red bats and hoary bats brought to him by local residents and his cats.

Peyton has been asked to catch a little brown myotis, and more than one big brown batthat people wanted out of their homes.

Locally, Peyton says the red, hoary and silver-haired bats live in trees and wooded areas while the little and big brown, keen myotis and freetails live in caves, mines, the attics of homes and in church belfries.

These days, many bats are fighting for their lives.

A cold-resistant fungus is attacking hibernating colonies of bats in the eastern part of the United States, Peyton says.

White nose syndrome, named because the fungus concentrates around the nose and mouth of the bat, is responsible for what he says has been called “the most precipitous decline in wildlife in the past century.”

More than a million dead bats have been discovered in caves and mines along the East Coast and the disease has been documented as far west as Missouri, Peyton says.

Another problem is green energy.

The biologist says large numbers of migrating bats are killed each year by spinning turbines.

In fact in some places, he says turbines are turned off at night.

“And of course, by the spraying for mosquitoes the city does,” Peyton says. “That, coupled with other insecticides, means the food supply for bats is diminished,” Peyton says.

All in all, bats in the attic, the barn or in a tree row is something that is pretty cool, he says, noting that people can help bats by constructing special houses.

Bat houses for sale, or plans for structures that can be built at home, are available on the Internet.

“An occupied bat house would be every bit as much fun to watch as a martin house,” Peyton said. “And who knows, maybe if you have a house for them, they will stay out of your belfry.”

And also out of that witch’s wig you may be wearing Halloween night.

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