It’s a batty world
Published 1:21 pm Saturday, July 16, 2016
Shrieks and gasps of delight — not terror — were the response from the children, teens and adults who met Magoo, Miss Calypso, Montu and Kobi on Tuesday morning. That’s when Denise Tomlinson of Franklin brought out the four creatures of the night for her program, Bat World. This presentation, which took place in Windsor High School’s cafeteria, was the latest in the summer reading series presented by the Windsor Library, a branch of the Blackwater Library system.
Before making any introductions, Tomlinson prepared the curious audience with some information about these critters, which she said are too often feared and killed based on myths and superstitions. Some examples:
• Bats are mammals with an average lifespan of 25 to 40 years. Females give birth to live babies, usually one a year.
• There are more than 1,100 species of bats in the world, with fitting descriptions such as leaf-nosed, straw-colored; yellow, epaulet and big-eared.
“We should love our bats,” said Tomlinson, who is a biologist and director for Bat World Hampton Roads.
For one, their benefits to ecology far outweigh any baseless fears.
• Bugs, not blood, are often the favorite food of microbats.
“They can eat 600 to 1,200 bugs every hour,” she said.
• Megabats, such as nectar bats or fruit bats as they’re commonly known, are pollinators like bees and butterflies; putting their snouts in flowers for nectar, the pollen that sticks will later be transferred elsewhere. Speaking of which, the devoured fruit seeds are eventually excreted and drop to the ground, where they can germinate.
•Forget that expression “blind as a bat,” because bats can see. They use echolocation to fly by night and catch insects.
• Contrary to popular belief, not all bats are blood suckers.
“Only three kinds of bats are vampire bats,” said Tomlinson. “These don’t live in Virginia or the rest of the United States, but are mostly in Mexico, the rest of Central America and South America.”
• They have teeth, not just fangs; and bats don’t suck, but only lick a little bit of blood at a time from their prey, which includes chickens, cows and other livestock, not humans. She later said that the myths about vampires predate any discovery of the bats that take sips of blood.
Still, the fear of the creatures in general persists, and for that reason Tomlinson said, “Bats need our help.” Forty percent of the population is either threatened or endangered. In addition to predators such as snakes, raccoons, owls and cats, people also kill them, and diseases such as white-nosed syndrome are a problem.
She urged the children to never touch a bat, especially with their bare hands. Instead, they should leave it alone or get an adult to help.
With that said, Tomlinson brought out the main attractions one at a time, holding each close in her gloved hands as she brought them around for a closer look. Some were kind of cranky, making squeaking sounds and rustling about, but you might be too if awakened.
• Magoo was a Big Brown Bat, most common in Virginia, but not as large one might think based on the description. At most, it was about five to six inches large.
• Miss Calypso was a leaf-nosed bat that belonged to the Jamaican fruit bat group.
•Montu was an Egyptian fruit bat, with a notable wingspan that impressed the audience.
• Kobi was a straw-colored fruit bat, which also got to take a tour in the room.
To learn more, visit visit www.batworld.org or contact Tomlinson at 346-0959 or BWHamptonRoads@aol.com.