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A fairly common insult is to call someone "batty" or "bat-brained," and we refer to erratic and irresponsible speeders as driving like "bats out of hell." Halloween and Dracula have heaped almost permanent image damage upon bats, creating a public relations nightmare for them in their relationship with humans, who do not always get the facts or behave rationally when it comes to living alongside other creatures. Fortunately a few of our species have been trying for a long time to put in a good word for bats.

This weekend, June 10-12, is the 27th year of the Bat-O-Rama event at Devil's Den State Park, which is eight miles south of Fayetteville on Interstate 49, Exit 53, then 17 miles southwest on Arkansas 170. Rangers and park interpreters will present bat programs and crafts for kids and adults of all ages, and even provide an opportunity to hear bats forage for their nightly meals.

27 annual Bat-O-Rama Weekend

June 10-12

A schedule of events is available at http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/devilsden/events

Those meals of insects are one reason we humans should be doing everything in our power to protect these little flying mammals. Michael Harvey, in his book, "Arkansas Bats: A Valuable Resource," summed up bat benefits in a way even the most thick of human brains should comprehend, saying, "Bats are the only major predators of night-flying insects, and one bat may eat up to 3,000 insects each night. There's one Arkansas bat colony, for example, that eats about one ton of insects nightly during the spring and summer months. That amounts to 184 tons per season." Even in our most frantic efforts at bug control, humans can not begin to electronically zap or spray enough poison to match the level of energy-free, toxin-free, and cost-free pest control bats provide.

In keeping with nature's cycling and recycling, bat guano (poop) in caves feeds cave biota that depends solely on it for nutrition. The mining of guano from caves can seriously damage or destroy bat colonies in hibernation or with babies. Bats have very low fat reserves and continual disturbances can lead to starvation because they burn up their energy in constant panic flight and can drop their babies, which they cannot retrieve from the cave floor.

Outside of caves, the guano under bat roosts puts digested bugs back into the soil that nourishes plants that feed worms and insect caterpillars, whose soft bodies are the only food many birds are able to feed their young. Birds grow up to eat bugs, fruits, frogs, snakes, seeds, etc., as their part in the ecological webs of life, which eventually link to humans and our own food sources.

Arkansas recognizes the value of its 16 species of bats because state law protects them all. It is also illegal to kill, harm, harass, or possess the federally designated endangered Indiana bats, gray bats, and the Ozark big-eared bats, all of which are in decline.

This year's Bat-O-Rama programs will include a chance for the public to watch a nighttime capture and release of bats by Professor Tom Risch, chairman of the Arkansas State University's Department of Biological Sciences, and his graduate students, who are permitted to collect data about which species inhabit the park and to study their health. There is great concern over a devastating disease, White Nose Syndrome, which is killing millions of bats in the U.S. and Canada. White Nose is caused by a fungus that thrives in cool caves and mines where bats hibernate. It wakes them up from their deep sleep at a time when there are no insects outside to eat so the bats starve. The disease reached Devil's Den last winter.

Caves across the country are being closed to human entry for an unspecified period of time to try and slow or stop the spread of the fungus from riding on the shoes and clothing of cave visitors. This disease is an extreme tragedy to both bats and humans, since without bat consumption, proliferating insects will be free to prey on our food crops and on us. The loss of the bat link will change lives of all the organisms connected to it up and down our ecosystem's chain.

A few of the other activities at Bat-O-Rama will include information about how bats live and feed and find their babies in the dark. Contrary to myth, they are not blind, and use their ears to "see." There will also be a 1.5-mile, moderately strenuous hike to learn how the caves and crevices of Devil's Den were formed.

Don't miss this opportunity to go a little batty this weekend.

Commentary on 06/07/2016

Print Headline: The benefits of battiness

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