If you haven’t heard, Bat Week was in full flight from October 24th to the 31st. What is Bat Week you ask? Bat Week is an annual, international celebration of these amazing flying mammals and how they play important roles in our ecosystem. Once again, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service West Virginia Field Office and Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps in Elkins held open house events to educate the public about bat biology and conservation efforts, joining hundreds of others across the United States and Canada to celebrate the wonderful world of bats.
Your probably think, “Eww why would anyone want to throw a party for a bunch of flying rats?” Well…
#1 Bats are not “eww.” They are actually quite cute, with some having the faces of a fox.
#2 Bats are not rats with wings. Yes, the bat is in the ancient group Laurasiatheria with modern relatives that include the shrew… but also whales. The bat’s closest mammalian relative is still a mystery.
Last, but surely not least,
#3 Who wouldn’t want to throw a party in celebration of the only flying mammal that does so many important jobs in the ecosystem that humans benefit from?
Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly, making them a unique addition to the world’s ecosystem. Worldwide, there are more than 1,300 species of bats. That’s almost 20 percent of all mammal species! Bats can be found in all parts of the world, performing vital ecological services such as insect control, pollinating flowers, and seed dispersal.
These bats are a natural insect control, eating thousands of insects per night to protect our farms, forests, and gardens. A single bat will eat up to its own body weight in insects each night! By protecting their crops and plants from insect pests, bats save farmers and forest managers billions of dollars each year. And yet bats still get a bad rap.
So I set out to change that.
My Bat Week open house events lasted two days and took flight with 10 interactive stations, each educating on bats or cave ecology, along with a conservation message. Some of the stations included: What’s Your Bat-titude – people guess true or false to common myths and facts about bats, Bat vs. Man – people could test their strengths like wing beats and eating ability to those of bats from around the world, and (the most popular station) a giant inflatable Bat Cave – aspiring bat biologists imitated spelunking while learning the importance of cave ecosystems.
Over 250 people came out to learn about bat adaptations, create batty crafts, and win bat inspired prizes! Craig Stihler, West Virginia DNR endangered species biologist gave insightful short talks about the importance of bats in our local ecosystem, along with conservation strategies community members could implement on their private property. After hearing the bat talks and walking through the exhibits, the kids had a few things to say…
“Bats are so cute I just want to cuddle them all!” – 6-year-old girl in a Batman outfit
“I don’t like bats, but they can hang around and eat the mosquitoes.” – 10-year-old boy who is still on the fence about bats
“Do bats have cars inside the cave?” – curious 5-year-old girl
“Would I really have to eat 145 Big Macs to eat as much as a bat?” – unconvinced 14-year-old
Many of the adults who came to the event commented that when they were younger they would see bats everywhere, and now that’s not the case. The concerned locals came to the events to see what was happening to the bat population and how they could help bring back the natural bug repellent to their properties. By the time the attendees walked out the doors, they had a better appreciation for the winged mammals of the night.
In the end, the participants had a new bat-titude, batty swag, and some lucky raffle winners received bat boxes to install on their property in effort to help conserve these misunderstood creatures of the night. Now, Bat Week can settle down and hibernate till next year!
I would like to thank the people who helped me make this event the success it was. I could not have pulled it off without the support of my office and my AMAZING volunteers from the West Virginia DNR, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and AFHA AmeriCorps. A special thank you to Cathy and Jim for letting me borrow your bat supplies and to Craig for his wonderful bat talks!
P.S. Alfred Pennyworth, if you could please come clean up the bat cave I would greatly appreciate it!