A little fun — yes, fun — with bats

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2016

By Susan and Biff Andrews

We have bats hereabouts. In fact, unless you live in a concrete jungle somewhere, you have bats, too. They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!! And, as with any of God’s creatures, they make for interesting study.

The bats we have been watching are crepuscular, meaning they come out just at dusk. It’s hard to know what species they are, but most likely they are Eastern Red Bats, which are orange in the male and orange-brown in the female. It’s hard to tell in low light.

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They are small, about two inches long with a two-inch tail. They are very quick in flight, usually following a similar flight path night after night. They eat moths and other insects, they roost in deciduous trees, and they bear one litter a year, usually in June.

In the fall they migrate south, often stopping to swarm at cave mouths. They usually hibernate among foliage or in leaf litter on the ground.

But they could be big brown bats, or hoary bats, or evening bats or one of several forms of Myotis or Pipistrelles (small forms of bats with different dental arrangements).

That’s the problem — they’re just bats until you start researching. So … we have bats, and they’re probably Eastern Red Bats.

Bats are chiroptera, the the only form of mammal that can fly. (Sorry, flying squirrels and Batman can only glide.) Bats usually roost upside down so they can drop and be in flight immediately.

They are insectivores exclusively.

They have very large ears and superb hearing, such that they can even hear an insect move along a leaf. Their hearing allows them the hunting technique of echolocation. They emit a high frequency sound that bounces off a target and returns a muted pulse back to the bat — radar or sonar, if you will.

Bats have a bad reputation. No, in these latitudes there are no vampire bats. Less than .05 percent carry rabies, far fewer than dogs. Bats with rabies are generally found on the ground and are not aggressive. They are clean animals. And no, they don’t like getting tangled in women’s hair.

Bad press all around.

In fact, bats are highly beneficial. They are bug eaters, which helps with mosquito problems. In fact, they eat so many insects, some farmers install bat houses and find they don’t have to spray. There’s far too much spraying, anyway.

And bats will amuse the average 7-year-old just by their flight by utilizing aluminum foil. If you take a one-foot length of aluminum foil and squeeze it tightly into a ball the size of a golf ball, it makes an excellent reflector … from any angle. So if there are bats flying around above said 7-year-old, the ball thrown into the air will elicit a strike from any bat nearby.

It’s guaranteed to provide squeals for quite a while. And it doesn’t hurt the bat.

So on a clear evening, turn your lights out, arrange some chairs in a clear space, and enjoy the nocturnal show, with or without the foil.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.