It was an afternoon program during school vacation, and several families showed up to Riverbend Farm to learn about bats. We saw no live bats (it was a daytime program, plus a little early for the bats to start coming out) but in fact, we were learning about bats, not getting up close and personal with the critters.
Amanda Melinchuk, Bat Research Monitor with Massachusetts Division of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) brought a slideshow of Myths and Facts, to help educate us about bats in general, and local bats in particular, and also to increase understanding about the challenges bats face. She debunked several popular myths, such as the idea that bats are blind (not) that they will get in our hair (no, they won’t) and that bats drink blood (well, a very few species do, but they live on other continents). She also demonstrated that bats are more like people than like rodents, with very similar arm and hand structure.
She shared some great photos of bats, and helped us to understand their wide variation in size, from the minuscule to those with wings six feet across (not near here–head to Australia to see the great big bats!) We also learned about the vast quantity of insects that bats consume each night when they are out hunting (yeah!).
Amada provided information about how to safely exclude bats from your house if they get inside (open a window, close the door to the room they are in, and turn out the light.) She also offered more detailed information about getting them out of an entire house. But be sure not to handle them with your bare hands–bats, like many other wild animals, may carry rabies.
Our task after the program finished was to head outdoors to paint a new bat box black prior to its installation at Riverbend Farm. Amanda explained that bat boxes need full sun to keep the bats warm when roosting. Thus, the black paint, but only on the outside. A water source nearby is essential to the bats, as well as open fields where they can hunt for insects.
Boxes need to be mounted at least 12-15 feet up in the air, since most bats cannot easily take off from the ground. It’s why they hang upside down, to give them a chance to get flying as they drop down from their perches. Amanda also urged us to leave old, dead trees standing in woods nearby–they make great habitat for natural roosts for bats and other woodland creatures.
We learned about white nose syndrome, which has been killing local bats, and is spreading to other areas. For more information about this threat to bats, head over to Whitenosesyndrome.org To learn more about what you can do to help bats, visit batcon.org You can also visit Masswildlife to learn more.
Our family enjoys heading out summer nights at dusk to watch the bats head outside as they begin their nightly hunt. Their grace and acrobatics are a delight to observe. I call it the bat ballet. And no, there are no vampire bats that live around here.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.