|An unidentified bat that inadvertently entered our shed rests before flying off to find a safer roosting spot|
July 23, 2012
Bats come out at dusk. If I time it right, I can be outside jumping on the trampoline while several of nature's only flying mammals swoop and circle overhead.
With headphones on my ears and my body bouncing to a playlist of upbeat melodies, my eyes are free to search the sky. One … two … three … flapping bats appear above the rooftop.
"Catch a lot of mosquitoes," I silently command.
I like bats. I can't remember ever being afraid of them. Of course, I have heard stories — we all have — about bloodsucking bats attacking people, carrying rabies or becoming entangled in a person's hair, but I have always taken those stories for what they are: fanciful tales fostering fear instead of understanding.
The truth is bats are beneficial. They are one of nature's best weapons for reducing insect populations. A single bat consumes up to 3,000 bugs a night. Multiply that by three, and you have 9,000 fewer insects pestering a susceptible human target, which quite often is me. Knowing bats are busy patrolling the night sky makes bouncing on the trampoline at dusk — or taking a walk, going for a swim or simply sitting outside — much more appealing.
Of the 1,000-plus species worldwide, Florida is home to 13 different kinds of bats. Despite popular opinion, not one of the 13 is rampant with rabies, blind or drinks blood.
Fewer than 1 percent of bats contract rabies, and those that do usually die within three to four days. There are only three species of vampire bats, and all live in Mexico, Central and South America. Florida's bats, like most of these oft-maligned, misunderstood animals, are insectivores, devouring their body weight in beetles, flies, moths and mosquitoes nightly. They are shy critters that avoid human contact. Although bats have perfectly good eyesight, sonar helps them navigate and hunt. Their ability to echolocate also keeps them out of people's hair, literally as well as figuratively.
Most bats are communal, roosting in large groups called colonies. They spend daylight hours resting in dead trees, caves, under bridges or in man-made structures. A few species, such as Seminole bats, yellow bats and tricolored bats, prefer a solitary existence roosting instead beneath dead palm fronds or amid Spanish moss.
One of the mysteries I'd love to solve is where the bats on our property live. Because I always see two or more at a time, I think they are one of the more common communal-living varieties such as the brown bat, evening bat or Southeastern bat. However, identifying a flying bat is difficult because its movements are so quick and erratic. On a handful of occasions, I've seen one up close when it has inadvertently entered our garage or shed. Those occasions have been brief because the bat has always flown away, leaving me unsure exactly which species I was looking at or, more intriguingly, where it normally roosts.
I find the question of where wild animals live fascinating. Although I spend quite a bit of time observing my surroundings, I have no idea where most of the wildlife I see sleeps. Which holes do armadillos live in? Where do the coyotes, foxes or bobcats make their dens? Are raccoons and squirrels living in some of the many dead trees? If so, which ones? And how about opossums, alligators and, of course, bats? It's easier with birds. I have located many bird nests and identified their residents, but other animals pose a more difficult challenge.
Perhaps someday I'll learn which species of bats I see at dusk and where they spend their hours of repose. Until then, I'm content to observe the aerial acrobatics of these bug-eating creatures as they circle overhead.
"Thank you," I say as I step off the trampoline. "No mosquito bites tonight!"