Going Batty

Gerri speaking at a local Elementary School in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Gerri speaking at a local Elementary School (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Do you know what bat’s breath smells like? Well, thanks to my friend Gerri Griswold, Director of Administration and Development at White Memorial Conservation Center, I do (*but you’ll have to read on to find out).  I first met Gerri when she spoke at an event about porcupines, yes porcupines, a little known critter that lives right under (well actually, over) our noses and we never even notice them.  You see, Gerri is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for Connecticut and presently has two recuperating porcupines at her residence. Amazingly, Gerri Griswold wears many other hats as well; a morning radio traffic reporter for WTIC AM and WZMX FM, owner of Krummi Travel (a travel agency specializing in Icelandic trips), and a former NY City chef.  Gerri is a magnetic force field of incredible energy and passion, and one thing this lady feels very passionate about is bats.  In fact, after an interview on Lifetime Television, she was named The Bat Lady, and the name stuck ever since.

One of Gerri's porcupines in rehab in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

One of Gerri’s porcupines in rehab (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Besides bats and porcupines, this advocate of “batdom” has lots of other underdogs residing at her family farm including a personable peacock named Pete, 3 naughty goats named Zorro, Sherlock and Watson, 2 talkative turkeys and a few chickens.  Yet, how did this incredible lady develop into a cheerleader for bats?  It started from her outdoor childhood on a farm, combined with her natural curiosity and love of animals, and support and education from her forester father; resulting in an overall respect and appreciation for wildlife.

One of Gerri's distinguished turkeys in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

One of Gerri’s distinguished turkeys (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Gerri had a strong bond to her family home and decided to keep the farm (originally purchased by her great grandfather in the mid 1800’s, both her grandfather and father grew up there), which is where Gerri came to meet Poppy, a Big Brown bat pup that was tragically abandoned in her back yard . . .  A bat that ultimately changed Gerri’s life.

Gerri and bat friend in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Gerri and bat friend (photo: the hartlandland trust)

You see, because Poppy was raised by Gerri, she considered Gerri her mother, and continued to hang out in her home (and under her shirt collar when in public) until she passed away almost 15 years later.  Poppy was the bat ambassador who proudly went with her Bat Mom to numerous events where together they could spread the word about bats. And the word was and is simply: Bats are good guys!  Here are some of the things that Gerri taught me on Poppy’s behalf:

A Large Brown bat hanging in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A Large Brown bat hanging (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

* Bats are members of the Chiroptera (meaning hand wing or giant hand) family, and are the only true flying mammal.

* There has been virtually no evolutionary change in bats for 50 million years.

* There are over 1,000 species of bats in the world, divided into two groups: Megabats consist of about 200 species which thrive in tropical areas eating a diet primarily of fruit.  Microbats consist of about 800 species, and are found across the world (cities and suburbs) wherever there is water and insects.  Due mainly to loss of habitat, over 80% of all bat species worldwide are threatened with extinction.

A Little Brown bat on Gerri's arm in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A Little Brown bat on Gerri’s arm (photo: CT.gov)

* There are 8 species in Connecticut, the most common are cave dwelling Big Brown bats (10″ wingspan, feed on moths) and the Little Brown bats (6″ wingspan, #1 predator of mosquitoes).  Rarer cave dwelling bats are Indiana bat, Tricolored bat (smallest in Connecticut) and Northern Long Eared bat.  Also rare are the tree dwelling bats, which tend to be furrier, and include the Silver Haired bat, Eastern Red bat (lives in maple trees), and the largest Connecticut bat, the Hoary bat, which has a 14″ wing span.  Most of these bats are considered endangered, and the Little Brown bat is predicted to be extinct within twenty years.

Bat snoozing on a finger in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Bat pup snoozing on a finger (photo: pinterest.com)

* Bats range in size from the smallest, Bumblebee bat (or Kitti’s Hognosed bat), which is the size of a penny, to the largest, the Large Indonesian Flying Fox bat, with a 6 foot wing span and length of 2 feet.  Both of these bats are in danger of extinction.

* Bats can live over 20 years, with the oldest recorded in Siberia at the age of 41

* Microbats (and a few megabats) use a type of sonar, called echolocation, to locate prey and to communicate. The only other mammals that do this are dolphins and whales.

The Bats at Bracken Cave in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The Bats at Bracken Cave in Texas (photo: Texas Tribune)

* 80% of bats eat insects; on an average summer night they can consume up to 1200 bugs per hour.  The largest colony of Mexican Free-tailed bats (estimates range from 20 to 40 million) live in Bracken Cave on a protected site in Texas.  It is believed that these bats consume over 20 tons of insects per night, saving local farmers over $700,000 per year in crop damages.

* The Mexican Free-tailed bats are capable of flying up to 60 mph at heights of 10,000 feet, yet most bats are not capable of flying from the ground.  Instead, they must climb up a surface and then launch.

Chinese "Wu Fu" symbol with five bats in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Chinese “Wu Fu” symbol with five bats (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

* Bats breed in fall, but store the sperm until spring.  They have live birth babies (rarely more than one) called pups (in late May through July), which weigh 1/3 the weight of the mother.  For the first two weeks the bat pup hangs with its mother-even during flight.  It is believed that this is how the baby learns to use sonar and to eat insects. As the pup gets too heavy, the mother leaves it with the colony, bringing food daily.  Pups reach adult size in four weeks, but continue to stay with their colony.

* Less than 1/2 % of all bats carry rabies, but you should not handle them under any circumstances.

* In China, bats are called “Swallows of the Night” and considered a symbol of good luck or “Wu Fu”.

Bats with White Nose Syndrome in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Bats with White Nose Syndrome (photo: natureworld.com)

* The dreaded White Nose Syndrome was accidentally introduced to Howe Caverns in Schoharie County, New York, in 2006.  It reached Connecticut by 2009, and has since spread to at least 28 states.  No other disease has threatened such a great population of mammals as White Nose (over 5.7 million bats have already died from White Nose Syndrome), yet minimal governmental funding has been set aside to research and stop this devastating killer.

Large Brown Bats in a Vermont Cave in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Large Brown Bats in a Vermont Cave (photo: newswatch.com)

So, what is being done to help this most worthy creature from vanishing from our planet?  Thanks to a recent animal behavior course that I took with another Connecticut wildlife rehabilitator, Linda Bowen, I found out that there are studies underway for antifungal medications, antifungal sprays and feeding stations to treat and help bats that come out of hibernation early.  So far these experiments have not been proven beneficial, in fact there is some concern about affecting the ecosystems of caves with antifungal products.  However, there are a few really exciting “artificial cave projects” that may have potential.

The Maine Bat Bunker in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The Maine Bat Bunker (photo: thescientist.com)

In 2012, The Nature Conservancy created an artificial cave buried into a hillside in Montgomery County, Tennessee, with 11 foot high ceilings and a length of 78 feet. The cave’s structure will allow it to be safely treated with antifungals once the bats leave the cave in spring, thus preventing the spread of White Nose disease. And in Limestone, Maine, the government has allowed researchers to turn a former nuclear weapons bunker into a “Bat Bunker”, where biologists from New York and Vermont successfully overwintered 30 bats last year.  They have created a system that will reproduce the echolocation sounds of a bat colony with hopes that it will draw bats naturally to hibernate in the bunker next winter.

Gerri's goats grazing in the pasture in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Gerri’s goats grazing in the pasture (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

In addition to what is being done, we can help by telling others that bats are essential and beneficial creatures.  They aren’t rabid blood sucking monsters trying to harm you, instead they are gentle mammals working hard to create a balanced ecosystem.  Refrain from destroying bat habitats (wooded areas) and from using pesticides.  Put up a bat house or two!  Encourage your local legislators to allocate funds to fight White Nose Syndrome and to protect our existing bat populations.  Become a Citizen Scientist and help keep count of local bat populations; by counting, filling out monitoring surveys and submitting your information, you enable your local Department of Environmental Protection to receive grant funds from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to continue important studies of local bat populations.

Pete flying down from the roof in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Peacock Pete flying down from the roof (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Many of us remember Bat Man, the caped crusader who righted wrongs while cruising around in his bat mobile, plotting in his bat cave or strategizing with commissioner Gordon on the bat phone.  Bat Man is cool.  Bats are cool.  Consider the Large Brown bat, Poppy, who was only the size of a cell phone, yet had the ability to change the way thousands of people thought about bats.  Now, just imagine what folks of our size can accomplish . . .

For those in the Connecticut area, please follow Gerri Griswold and the White Memorial Conservation Center for year round events: www.whitememorialcc.org

And other bat sites to visit for lots of great information:

Bat Conservation International:  www.batcon.org

The Nature Conservancy:  www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/tennessee/artificialbatcave.xml

The Bunker Bats: www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/36671/title/Bunker-Bats/

Linda Bowen/ Bat Count Info: www.bats101.info 

****Bat Trivia Answer: Bat’s breath has a skunky odor!

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Comments

  1. This is soooo cool I learned a lot!!!!!:-)

    • I’m glad you liked it! Maybe you can go to White Memorial when they have their bat count! Tell your friends to read this article, too. Together we can save our bats!

  2. ALMOST makes me want to have one as a pet! Thanks Kathy! Fun read.

    • Well . . . you don’t need to have them as a pet to love and appreciate them! Spread the word please! Tell your friends how important bats are to our environment-impress them with your “bat know how”

  3. Very nicely written!

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