Bats invade Danville Science Center
Sep 15, 2013 (Menafn - Danville Register & Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Despite their image as blood-sucking creatures and disease-carrying rodents, bats -- which can be found in large numbers in Southside Virginia -- are beneficial to humans, said a biologist during a presentation Saturday morning at the Danville Science Center.
There are 45 documented species of bats in the U.S., 17 across Virginia and seven to nine types in the Dan River Region, said Denise Tomlinson, who is also director of Bat World Hampton Roads. Though numbering more than 1,000 species around the world, nearly 40 percent are endangered, with more than half in the U.S. rare, threatened or endangered.
Contrary to commonly-held prejudices, bats are not rodents, Tomlinson said.
"Bats are the only mammal in the whole world that can fly," Tomlinson told a small, rapt audience of children, parents, grandparents and other attendees.
Negative myths and habitat destruction, as well as a fungal disease known as white nose syndrome in the eastern U.S., are the biggest dangers to bats. "'They're dirty,'" Tomlinson mentioned as one misconception, in addition to scary images from vampire movies.
"Hollywood loves to make them look like bad guys," Tomlinson said.
Other threats to bats worldwide are human disturbance during hibernation and collisions with wind energy turbine blades and tall telecommunications towers.
Another falsehood is that bats make nests in human hair. Bats do not build nests, they roost or hang, Tomlinson said. Colony-roosting bats like to live in trees or caves, while the creatures normally use caves to hibernate.
The animals play a large role in our lives by consuming insects, Tomlinson said. They also east fruit, nectar and pollen, with a few species eating fish and frogs.
They also pollinate flowers that grow into fruit including bananas, mangoes, papayas, durians and others. According to batworld.org, fruit bats "bring us (more than) 450 commercial products and 80 medicines through pollination and seed dispersal."
About 98 percent of new plants growing in the rainforest come from seeds dropped by bats, Tomlinson said.
Regarding vampire bats, just three types exist in the world, but they do not live in the U.S. or suck human blood, Tomlinson said. About the size of a package of M & Ms, they get their teaspoon-size meals from other animals, according to batworld.org.
Also, the phrase "blind as a bat," is based on falsehood, since bats can see, Tomlinson said.
Another misconception is that bats "carry" rabies, when, in fact, they are capable of catching the disease just like any other mammal. Less than one-half of one percent of bats contract rabies, according to batworld.org.
There are three federally endangered bats in Virginia (the gray bat, Indiana bat and Virginia big-eared bat), with their biggest threats being white nose syndrome and human persecution, Tomlinson said.
"People are afraid of bats, so they kill them," she said. However, like any other wild animal, it's never safe to handle or play with bats, according to batworld.org. They should be left alone.
White nose syndrome is a fungal disease found around the muzzles of hibernating bats. The disease has caused massive die-offs.
The presentation ended with Tomlinson holding and presenting three live bats to the intrigued audience. They are common in Southside Virginia and include the evening bat, the little brown bat and the red bat.
The evening bat is found in eastern and southwestern Virginia and roosts in colonies, man-made structures and bat houses.
The little brown bat can be located throughout the state and is one of the most abundant, according to batworld.org. It roosts in colonies in caves, trees, under bridges, mines and tunnels, man-made structures and bat houses. They hibernate in caves for the winter.
Red bats are common throughout Virginia and are solitary tree-dwellers.
Danville is a perfect place for bats, Tomlinson said. There are hundreds of thousands of bats in the area, Tomlinson estimated.
"That's not an exaggeration," she said.
The city's old brick and concrete buildings, with their nooks and crevices, provide a good environment for the creatures to roost, Tomlinson said.
"The city of Danville is almost built for bats," she said.
Tomlinson and Sonya Wolen, assistant director at the Danville Science Center, said they wanted to bring the Bat World Hampton Roads program to the center to educate the public.
"We think the greatest need is for children to understand animals about which we have fear, so we can treat them appropriately," Wolen said. "We want to be good stewards."
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