Return of the “Caped” Crusader

Yesterday we heard from Emily Peters, an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s West Virginia Field Office. Peters shared her “Bat Week” event success story. Today she’s back to tell us how she helped families go “batty” for a good cause, through fun activities and a little bit of bat-box-building know how. 

(Cue Bat signal and real-life “Bat Woman” Emily Peters)

Last week, North America was spreading the news about how bats are amazing creatures that are incredibly important to the ecosystem and to the economy. In addition to being Batman’s symbol of glory, bats perform several important ecological services such as pollinating flowers, seed dispersal, and pest control. A single bat will eat up to their body weight in insects every night! Think about it: how many McDonalds double cheeseburgers would we have to eat to do that? (Don’t try that at home, kids) These “insect vacuums” are great for farmers, as they act as a natural and FREE insecticide. That’s less chemicals on our food and more money going back to our economy, people.

Bat Week volunteers share in the festivities as they craft alongside the families who participated. Credit: Emily Peters

Bat Week volunteers share in the festivities as they craft alongside the families who participated. Credit: Emily Peters

So basically, bats are the coolest. They’re also kind of real life super heroes. I felt it was important that other people knew that too. What better way to show appreciation for bats than throwing a party?? Bats have an extra hurdle to jump over, as they are often viewed as scary creatures of the night that suck your blood (thanks a lot, Dracula). I aimed to change that idea, presenting educational information in the form of FUN. I decided to become the hero bats needed and joined my colleges in one of the nerdiest fiestas of the year: Bat Week.

Jr. "bat biologists" in training explore a huge inflatable bat cave. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

Jr. “bat biologists” in training explore a huge inflatable bat cave. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

On the dawning of the event day, my brain buzzed with excitement and anxiety. It was the day of reckoning- my hard work over the last month was about to be put to the test. I awoke from a long night of restless sleep- feeling like a kid waiting for Santa all night. I wanted to cry, laugh, and vomit in a corner somewhere all at the same time. Yep, Bat Week was finally here!

A family proudly displays the bat box they built together during the second day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily peters

A family proudly displays the bat box they built together during the second day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

 

 

The event kicked off with an open house- filled with activities that families could have fun and get batty with. They checked their “bat-itudes,” determining which is truth or myth on statements like “All bats have rabies” and “Bats are flying rats” (both are myths, by the way). Visitors became bat biologists by fashioning helmets and headlamps to explore a giant inflatable bat cave, dodging stalactites and stalagmites along the way. They collected data on individual bats, measuring forearm lengths and weighing models in an attempt to identify individual species in an activity appropriately named “Working the Night Shift.” There were also plenty of bat-tastic crafts and giveaways, of course. Kids left with colorful bat hats, masks, and kites, handfuls of candy, and bat stickers galore. Overall, we had around 150 visitors participate in the evening’s events!

A family prepares to get "batty" and build a bat box together for Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

A family prepares to get “batty” and build a bat box together for Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

But the fiesta didn’t end there- families returned for a second night of celebration the following day, this time to build bat boxes. Participants who came on the second day understood and appreciated bats and were thankful for an opportunity to help the little heroes. Some of these participants came with this attitude naturally; others had adopted it from the first night of activities. A bat box is a great way to help bat species by providing a shelter for them to roost in. It also benefits the bat box owner since the bats living inside will feast on mosquito populations living the property. Good bye bug bites, hello bats!

Families worked together toward mutual conservation efforts, all by simply wielding a hammer. I ordered 30 bat box kits from Organization for Bat Conservation, and 30 bat boxes were built by the end of the night! There were around 80 participants throughout the evening. The assembled boxes were taken home by the family that built them, to be hung up on their properties in hopes of directly helping bat populations.

As the second night of batty fun came to a close, my emotions shifted from a state of anxiety to serenity. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in myself, along with relief! No major tragedies happened- nobody bled at any point, all appendages remained appropriately attached, my volunteers were rock stars, and everyone came and left with a smile on their face. Bat Week was over and it turned out better than I hoped for. I had done my duty in the battle for bats- it was time to hang up my cape.

But only for a little while…

Click here if you missed Peters’ introduction yesterday to her bat-tastic, Bat Week event!

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