Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Park District Offers a Rare View of Bats at Twilight
July 20, 2014 by Gwen Cooper | No Comments

Dwindling Numbers Plagued by White Nose Syndrome

You may go batty after attending Dan Best’s upcoming annual twilight bat encounter program.

You may go batty after attending Dan Best’s upcoming annual twilight bat encounter program.

Best is a naturalist with the Geauga Park District. He lamented it may be one of the last times people can experience the thrill of watching dozens of bats flying out of the wooden hibernarium, or bat nursery, structure at dusk.

“We really don’t know what to expect,” he said of the event, which is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 31 at the Bat Colony station on the grounds of the South Newbury Union Chapel on state Route 44.

“At the rate the population is declining, this could be the last year we will seen any,” Best added.

In 2013, Best’s program featured a spectacle of hundreds of bats emerging from the structure for a night of feasting on insects such as moths, flies, mosquitoes, Japanese beetles and other flying beetles in the area.

Two years earlier, participants in his program saw thousands of bats.

Due to the effects of white nose syndrome — a fungus that is devastating bat populations from New England to south of the Mississippi — bats that hibernate in colonies are dying because the fungus irritates them and wakes them up from their hibernation too soon causing them to starve and be dehydrated.

Best said picnic shelters at several GPD properties were used by bats as roosting places for the maternal bat colonies, but not anymore.

“They’re all gone,” he said. “Just when we were figuring out how large and diverse our bat population was, it began a rapid decline. We don’t know what effect this will have on the ecosystem. Bats eat insects that can harm trees and other vegetation.”

The Bat Colony at Union Chapel in Newbury is a maternal bat nursery that can hold hundreds of roosting bats and their young. It was constructed 10 years ago by Eagle Scout Alex Bergman of Chagrin Falls Troop 151 to replace a barn on the property that was falling down.

Best explained the park system manages the property and delayed tearing down the barn until a suitable structure could be built to house the bat population.

Another area affected is the Ansel Cave trail in The West Woods park in Russell Township, Best said.

Bats roost in the cave outcroppings. He said hikers are cautioned from the area to avoid potentially carrying and spreading the fungus to the area on shoes and clothing, which is believed to be how the problem began in caves in Upstate New York.

From there, the fungus has spread westward to points past the Mississippi River, killing millions.

“It is believed that European spelunkers brought the fungus here with their gear sometime around 2006,” he said. “The fungus is common in Europe, and bats there have adapted to it so it doesn’t affect them. Here, it’s a different story.”

Best said nine types of bats can be found in northeastern Ohio, including five cave hibernating ones that are affected by the white nose fungus. Some species hibernate alone and are not prone to the problem.

Registration is required to attend the program due to limited parking. Carpooling with family and friends is encouraged.

Register by calling 440-279-0880 or visit geaugaparkdistrict.org.


Some Facts About Bats:

• They are not blind, but they do use echo-location to aid in catching flying insects after dark.
• They generally do not try to land in your hair.
• They won’t bite you unless you try to catch one.
• If you find a bat in your house, it is likely to be a Big Brown bat, which tend to be a solitary and use hollow trees as shelter. Simply open your windows and doors and the bat should leave your home.
• Bats have a low occurrence of rabies.
• If you find one on the ground, don’t touch it and keep pets and children from it. Rabies will cause a bat to be paralyzed and unable to fly.


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