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Just To Tell You Once Again, Who’s Batty

Trying to squeeze that extra little bit of creepiness out of Halloween can, in itself, be a trick or a treat during the trick-or-treat season.  This may have been what people were trying to do the day before Halloween.

On Oct. 30, approximately 60 people attended the “Batty for Bats” informative program located in Hearnes 102.

“This is an example of what I like to call a ‘Science and Society Lecture,’ this isn’t meant to turn you into a bat biologist,” Dr. David Ashley said. “It’s meant to tell you a little bit about a critter that overlaps your life and provide some credible information about it.”

People often have fears or misconceptions on bats, especially around the Halloween season.

“This is almost tradition for me,” Ashley said. “I do this almost every year around Halloween, purposefully, to provide a rebuttal to the standard Halloween hype.”

Ashley thinks that people do not hear the positive sides on bats enough especially around Halloween, and this was the starting point of his lecture.

Ashley welcomed everyone in attendance on Hallows Eve and got straight into his lecture, right after making a little joke about how bats don’t really get in your hair, but if they did, he wouldn’t have much of a problem. The joke being that Ashley is not what you would call a man with a full head of hair.

Ashley told of how his interest in bats grew from the beginning. In 1971, Ashley was a younger undergraduate of Bowling Green in Northwest Ohio. “I had this awesome opportunity to get a summer internship with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia.”

CDC had sent Ashley to Bracken Cave, which has the largest colonies of warm blooded animals in the world, to participate in a rabies epidemiology study. Ashley said that anywhere in this cave he could have reached out and grabbed a handful of bats.

He spoke of watching these bats flying out of Bracken Cave for hours at a time. A person can see one of several such bat flights on video by simply doing a YouTube search with the key words ‘Bracken Cave bats exiting.’

Ashley said that experience was incredibly impressive for him and helped him find his love with bats.

Just by visiting Ashley’s office one can tell his love for bats has not diminished since that occurrence at Bracken Cave. If a person were to look up in his office they would see the myriad bats on display attached to the ceiling.

“Halloween is the time my family traditionally get me a new bat for my office,” Ashley said. “So all of the bats that are hanging in my office, they are probably from my wife or kids or grandkids.”

Ashley had several facts to point out involving bats during his lecture. Ashley spoke about the classification of bats as ‘Chiroptera’ or hand winged. Meaning that, the bones of a bats wing are very similar to the bones in a human’s hand. In a bats wing there are four fingers and a thumb, just like a humans hand except the finger bones of a bats wing are much longer.

Rabies was another main topic Ashley wanted to point out.  Most people have the thought in mind already that all bats carry rabies. Ashley wanted to make sure that everyone knew that just a small percentage of bats have rabies. In fact in Missouri, according to Ashley, raccoons and skunks are more likely to be tested for rabies.

This isn’t saying that it is safe to run up and hug a bat, this was just to clarify that not as many bats have rabies as one might think.

The White Nose Syndrome was also a topic on Ashley’s mind. This syndrome has been described as causing the most serious known decline of North American wildlife. In some caves the mortality rates of bats from the WNS, which is a fungus, is up 95 percent.

First signs of the WNS, which grows on the nose and wings, were documented in New York in February of 2006. Since then it has very quickly spread across much of Northeastern America and Canada. The WNS has even been recently reported in Missouri.

Because of the WNS, in Missouri, caves that are on state or federal property, that are not commercial caves or private caves, are shut down and off limits to explorers. According to Ashley, biologists are afraid that somebody going into a certain cave will get WNS spores on the folds of their clothing, their boots and their caving gear. Then those same explorers enter another cave essentially transferring the spores now to another cave.

Some students really seem to enjoy bats but have concerns about the diminishing numbers and the way bats die.

“There are problems with wind power,” Mitchell Bembrick, biology major, said. “Particularly what it does to the bird and bat population, they both seem to fly right into the turbines, which is weird.  As someone who is deeply invested in bats, I love me some bats, their population is a big concern of mine. Also considering how small they are, most small mammals reproduce fairly quickly, bats don’t. They have maybe one small offspring a year.”

This wind turbine issue was talked upon as well by Ashley. As we grow into a society who is growing more and more concerned with conserving oil and finding alternative energy sources, we have in many cases turned towards wind energy. Apparently even with a bats echo-location they seem to have a difficult time finding these wind turbines and fly right into the propellers resulting in death of the bat.

Ashley said there will be a study conducted this summer in trying to find a way to keep the bats from being swept into the turbines.

Ashley finished up the ‘Batty about Bats’ lecture with the several benefits bats provide us. Such as how bats provide insect predation, reducing the number of insects that are so bothersome during those hot summer days.

Bats are an important pollinator of the plant world. Bats accomplish this by transferring pollen from flowers or seeds from fruit.

One other benefit Ashley discussed was that bats also have an important role in the fertilizer world.  Their guano is very rich in nitrogen. Plus, this is an easily renewable resource.

Still, even after attending this show, some people may still have some fears in them concerning bats.

“I think people just have the preconceived notion that they will be infected with rabies if they come into contact with bats,” Nicole Bradley, English Major, said. “It’s just a lack of public understanding of the diseases that they carry and the likely-hood that they will actually contract those diseases”.

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