06 January 2017

Are #Bats #Bootiful? @USGSWildlife #BatHouse #Entomology #Halloween #HelpfulMammals #OrganicFarm #WhiteNoseSyndrome

Eek! What's that? A flying bat. Run for your lives! Or preferably, one could display some uncommon sense. The motif of a swooping bat as an object of fear and terror is so common that children's cartoons and youth comics employ it regularly, indoctrinating us early, implanting an idea that bats are to be run from, are to be reviled, are to be eradicated. I'm Batman, anyone? The entire concept of a "batman," a vigilante crime fighter who strikes bad guys under cover of darkness, relies heavily upon our collective fear of bats. (In fact, this misguided fear is literally what inspires the comic book character Bruce Wayne to take up a bat's image.)

How many Halloween cartoons did you view as a child that featured at least one scene with a swooping black cloud of bats? (Every "spooky" one of them.) And what is always the response of anyone encountering a bat/s in any of these cartoons? (Abject terror. Shrieks and screams.) Bats rely on bio sonar or echolocation. When sound is how an animal "sees," can you imagine what it must be like to have nearly every human contact involve bombastic tones? Poor bats. Traditional Halloween imagery has unfortunately done a great disservice to bats. (Don't even get me started on the whole vampire bat thing.) We have taught the common man that bats should be avoided at best and dispatched on sight at worse.

As misfortune oft has it, bats desperately need our help these days. Enclaves of bats are being wiped out wholesale by a horrid spreading disease called White Nose Syndrome which is caused by Pseudogymnoascus desctructans, a cold-loving white fungus that burrows into the hibernating mammal and kills indiscriminately. [See NWHC WNS data.] In many areas the bat populations have thinned considerably and the disease is not yet contained. It does not aid the situation to have humans be squeamish (and shrieking) on top of things. These are dire days for bats. We must step up to find a cure obviously, but we must also try to bolster healthy bat populations in the meanwhile in order to prevent the possibility of a catastrophic extinction level event for bats. This is happening on our watch. Therefore, we must deign to stop it.

It is well past time, we citizens reclaim the bat for the good side. I will lead the charge, as someone must. Here's a tidbit: a single insectivorous bat will eat approximately 1/3 its weight in insects each night of a successful hunt. You heard me. This is nature at its finest, natural pest control. A word to the wise, if one plans to farm organically then there had darn well better be some bat houses placed strategically throughout his farmland. Not a farmer? If one is a proactive community resident, a so-called good neighbor, it wouldn't hurt to build a bat house or two around his property. In this new Age of Insect-borne Pandemics in which we live, the benefits of cultivating animals which help control insect populations cannot be stressed enough. If you're unable to build a bat house, consider surveying bat populations in your area and submitting your findings to the National Wildlife Health Center [Go to www.nwhc.usgs.gov for further instructions]. As if chowing down on pests weren't sufficient to make us adore bats, these helpful mammals also pollinate flowers and disperse fruit seeds. (There goes your food chain.)
Bat drawing, vintage sketch
Time to spread some bat love! As much as I would like to believe otherwise, I do realize it may not be feasible for everyone to build a bat house in his yard; however, there is something that anyone can do and that is to work to reclaim the bat's image, restoring its identity as a helpful mammal that should be appreciated. We don't have to remove bats from Halloween celebrations, we merely need to adjust our thinking. If we must think of Halloween when we think of bats, then let's create anew, coining positive associations. I'll start. I declare bats are bootiful! Hopefully, the next time someone encounters a bat/s unexpectedly, the person might recognize that the bat is likely as startled as he, and respond accordingly, by stifling any screams. Remember, be kind to bats!

P.S. It's my hope to write and illustrate a children's book using the term "bootiful" as an image altering descriptor of bats. I have a rough idea for it in my mind now --- it'll make for a perfect Halloween book release, providing the entire North American bat population hasn't been wiped out by then. In order to truly counteract the negative imagery of bats in our society, we've got to (re)educate everyone, starting with our young.

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