Crowd goes batty: Rapt audience at bat program

Kurt Hauglie/ Daily Mining Gazette Ian Ableson of the Organization for Bat Conservation in Pontiac, Michigan, showed Jamaican leaf nose and Egyptian fruit bats to a fascinated audience Wednesday at a presentation about bat conservation at the Portage Lake District Library.

HOUGHTON — There are many misconceptions about bats, and Ian Ableson came to Houghton Wednesday to clear up some of them.

Ableson, who is from the Organization for Bat Conservation in Pontiac, Michigan, gave a presentation in the community room at the Portage Lake District Library. The room was packed, mostly with adults with young children some of whom were knowledgeable but still curious about the flying mammals.

Ableson said the organization is a facility, which cares for bats which either have been given up by zoos or have been brought in injured. However, the organization is a rehabilitation facility. The bats brought there stay there for life.

“We’re like a big retirement home for bats,” he said.

There are two categories of bats, Ableson said, micro and mega bats. He brought examples of both types.

Michigan has only micro bats, of which there are thought to be nine species, Ableson said. It’s not certain how many species there are in Michigan because they move around and don’t recognize state lines.

“That number is a little vague,” he said.

In the Upper Peninsula the most common are little brown and big brown bats, both of which eat insects, Ableson said.

In the United States, Ableson said a problem facing many species of bats is white nose syndrome, a fungus which gets on the bats’ noses and causes them to wake up from hibernation during the winter. Since there are no insects during winter, the bats which wake up and leave their hibernation location find no insects, and many die from starvation.

“It costs them a lot of energy to wake up,” he said. “Little brown bats are one of the hardest hit by white nose syndrome.”

There are 1,300 types of bats in the world, Ableson said. They eat insects, frogs, fish, small animals, fruit and nectar.

“They are the second largest group of mammals after rodents,” he said.

Ableson said the senses a bat uses depends on its species. Micro bats aren’t blind, but their eyes are small, so they also use echolocation to help them find insects. Although the human ear can’t hear the sound from echolocation, he brought a device which amplified the sound and demonstrated it for the audience.

“The sounds are a little bit like a sonar,” he said.

The mega bat species have large eyes and see well, Ableson said. Some also have large ears, which help them hear well to locate prey. They have long snouts, and some are called flying foxes.

“They do look a little like dogs or foxes,” he said.

The Malaysian flying fox has a wingspan close to 5 feet.

Ableson said micro bats eat 2,000 to 4,000 insects per night. That activity helps reduce the number of insects, which may be harmful to agricultural crops, and therefore reduces the amount of pesticides needed.

Fruit-eating bats drop the seeds of the fruits they eat, which helps spread the plants, which produce the fruit.

The Organization for Bat Conservation is trying to educate people about bats in order to dispel misconceptions about them, and encourage people to help preserve them, Ableson said.

“Bats have had a terrible reputation for hundreds and hundreds of years,” he said.

Attending the presentation were Tara Ryan and her 10-year-old son, Miles.

Tara said the two came because they’ve attended other PLDL programs in the past.

“We know the programs at the library are awesome,” she said.

Tara said Miles has had an interest in bats most of his life, and she also finds them interesting.

Miles said his the presentation was the first time he saw so many live bats. His experience with bats was limited to the internet.

“YouTube,” he said.

Chris Alquist, PLDL community programs director, said the Organization for Bat Conservation about giving a presentation at the library, and she’s glad they did.

“This has been absolutely fabulous,” she said.