Thursday, October 27, 2016


It can't be accidental that the week before Halloween is also International Bat Week. Bats, along with spiders and cats, are among the "scary" creatures that show up in lawn displays and costumes.

When I was a child I learned that if you were out in the evening when the bats were flying you might be the victim of a bat laying its eggs in your hair. Bats, of course, are mammals and don't lay eggs. And they have an incredible locating system that keeps them from flying into things - like humans - that might harm them. I am not sure when I unlearned that silly myth but I have long since come to enjoy their "story" and appreciate their part in a healthy environment.

For the last couple of years our church has been renting the group camp site at Forestville State Park for our summer camping outing. The Mystery Cave is there and it is home to a sizable bat population. But many also spend summer days resting in the rafters of the large group camp pavilion that we use while camping. You can hear them chattering all day long and often see some between the beams. But what is really fascinating is to watch as evening rolls around and they crawl out, line up, walk down a rafter, and take flight one after another as if they are queued up for takeoff on a runway.

Minnesota is home to seven species of bats. The little brown bat is the most common.

It is one of four species that spend their winters hibernating in Minnesota caves. Three other species migrate south for the winter. It is the cave dwellers that are particularly susceptible to the White Nose Syndrome that has decimated some bat populations in other parts of the country. The fungus has been found at Mystery Cave and elsewhere in Minnesota but so far we haven't seen a decline in bat numbers. As the linked article suggests, though, the trend lines are "awful."

An enormous amount of money and research is being poured into understanding this disease as bats play a crucial role in our agricultural economy. We know they eat mosquitoes but they also eat vast quantities of insect pests that potentially save farmers billions of dollars in pesticide costs. Now, though, there is a possibility that farming practices may be affecting bat populations in much the way that they are suspected of affecting honey bee populations.

The evidence isn't it yet on the relationship between big ag and bat decline. But I won't be surprised if there is a link. We already know our agricultural practices are bad for the soil, the water, the bees, wildlife, and quite frankly us.

In any case, bats are amazing creatures. Here are a few more bat facts:
  • There are more than 1,300 species of bats on earth, 40 in the U.S.
  • Bat wings are webs of skin between their fingers (forelimbs).  Bats have more bones in their wings than birds do.
  • Bats have “thumbs” on the leading end of their wings that help them grasp and climb. The tropical Spix’s Disk-winged Bat roosts on leaves so he has suction cups where his thumbs would be.  Clickhere to see.
  • According to, some male bats sing like songbirds to defend territory and attract mates.
  • Most bats reproduce very slowly, only one pup per year.
And a bat poem:

At evening, sitting on this terrace,
When the sun from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara
Departs, and the world is taken by surprise ...

When the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing
Brown hills surrounding ...

When under the arches of the Ponte Vecchio
A green light enters against stream, flush from the west,
Against the current of obscure Arno ...

Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.

A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.
A dip to the water.

And you think:
"The swallows are flying so late!"


Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop ...
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

Never swallows!
The swallows are gone.

At a wavering instant the swallows gave way to bats
By the Ponte Vecchio ...
Changing guard.

Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one's scalp
As the bats swoop overhead!
Flying madly.

Black piper on an infinitesimal pipe.
Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive;

Wings like bits of umbrella.


Creatures that hang themselves up like an old rag, to sleep;
And disgustingly upside down.

Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags
And grinning in their sleep.

In China the bat is symbol for happiness.

Not for me!

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