A white fungus is currently killing most of the bat population across the Eastern US. Nobody understands why, or how, and there is uncertainty as to how this will affect our ecosystem.
For five years of my Ph.D., during 7 months out of the year, I would occasionally drive an hour from Boston to capture wild-caught bats at a barn on a rural farm. A harp trap was set-up at the mouth of the barn, to catch the bats at ‘emergence’, or the time at dawn or dusk when these insectivorous bats arouse in order to feed on bugs.
When autumn approached and the bats were preparing for hibernation, they would migrate to caves in Vermont, and I would also drive there for 2 nights of bat-catching at dark, cold, mountain caves. This meant carrying the trap up the mountain, along with our supplies and the bat hotel (the small wooden cubbies that house the bats in the close-quarters they prefer).
The flying devil, Myotis lucifugus
These bats are Myotis lucifugus, or little brown bats, named for their Lucifer-style devil ears. Actually, the bats are quite adorable, quite smart, and are more closely related to humans than most other model research species. They roost in these barns in maternal colonies, with only very few young males. In the fall, the bats mate and then store sperm all through the winter, only fertilizing a single egg when spring comes. This period of hibernation during the winter is extremely energy-intensive, requiring deposition of new fat stores, and making the seasonal hibernating bat a fascinating example of beneficial obesity in the animal kingdom.
Needless to say, I am fascinated by and adore all bats.
Not all people share this feeling. Sure, Batman is a hero, but usually bats are the scary winged creatures of nightmares and horror movies. My own husband ran to the car, rolled up the windows, and locked the doors, when I tried to get him to touch one of the bats I was holding at the barn one summer.
Read the rest of this entry »