July 12, 2011

Sky-Patrolling Insectivorous Scary Critters



     They flit at superman speeds throughout my yard and over my head once dusk sets in, forcing me to give up my comfortably cool porch seat to retire indoors. They get into my house, causing an irrational terror that they will land in my hair, bite me, and send me for medical treatment for a series of possible rabies shots.

     Yet I will never advocate eliminating this species except when they enter my personal domain, the interior of my house. Even then, my husband Monte and I make the effort to guide them to the outdoors before executing them.

     It is suggested that they save us big bucks by gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops…realizing this truism, I welcome them while infestations of tiny flying critters that like my eyes, my food, and the taste of my body chase me indoors, even in the cooling summer evening when I most enjoy writing, reading, or socializing on my patio.

     “Come over here, critters, and gobble up these insects so I can enjoy the outside! Be your insectivorous selves by patrolling the skies at night above our fields and forests—and my ‘little acre—‘is there any way I can help you do your job?”

     It’s a schizophrenic emotional reaction—fear and welcome—to one of nature’s most intriguing creatures. What I speak of is the lowly bat.

    Three caves that harbor bats exist in Forbes Forest in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Two are in Westmoreland county: Coon Cave, southeast of Blairsville, and Lemon Hole. A third, Barton Cave near the Laurel Caverns, is in Fayette County. Unfortunately, the bats in these caves suffer from white-nose syndrome, identifiable by a white fungus appearing on the bats’ muzzles, ears, and wing membranes. It has decreased the bat population by almost a million bats in the Northeast since its detection in the United States in 2007. There is an unprecedented mortality rate of bats in Pennsylvania.

     White-nose syndrome kills bats by interrupting their hibernation habits, causing them to awaken more often. They leave their caves to enter freezing cold outside temperatures, and die by freezing, starving, or dehydrating.

     Bats, however scary, are truly our friends. Hopefully a cure for white-nose syndrome will be found, enabling bats to do what they do best: eat thousands of insects.




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