“Bats: Their Lives and Lore”

Few of nature’s creatures have acquired such an undeservedly bad reputation as the bat, native to our world for the past 55 million years. Speaking to 20 Y’s Men of Meriden by Zoom on June 8, Maureen Heidtmann, Master Wildlife Conservationist with the CT Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection, provided a PowerPoint review of this remarkable animal.

Bats are mammals, found throughout the world with nine species occurring in Connecticut. To dispel some common myths: bats are not aggressive toward humans, do not get tangled in ladies’ hair, are not blind (indeed have excellent eyesight), are rarely rabid (less than 0.5 percent frequency), can fly during the daytime, and maneuver in flight by echolocation (small bats) and eyesight (large bats).

Bats are greatly beneficial, providing pollination in rain forests, seed disbursal in forests, and pollination for over 500 plant species, as well as pest and disease control. At Bracken Cave in Texas, some 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats each night consume 140 tons of insects!

Bats vary in size from two grams (like a bumble bee) to flying foxes (wingspan up to six feet like an eagle). Their “wings” are actually mammalian arms and hands, with a membrane between the long “fingers” to allow for flight. After a winter hibernation (hanging upside down to save energy), they reproduce in springtime, generally having a single pup. Using echolocation (high frequency sounds emitted through the mouth or nose, and received back by oversized ears), they can avoid obstacles and predators while looking for food; they are also able to “talk” to each other (including a specialized “baby talk” from mother to pup).

Our local bats are in trouble. Challenges include predators (domestic and feral cats, snakes, hawks and owls), windmills, habitat loss, and sticky flypaper. And white-nose syndrome, a serious fungal infection appearing on the nose, wings and bodies and killing over seven million bats since first appearing in America in 2006. It is thought that bats with WNS die during hibernation due to disruption of their thermo- regulatory system and excess activity leading to depletion of fat stores and eventual starvation. Or they may leave their protected home in search of food, resulting in death from exposure.

For further information about the Y’s Men of Meriden, go to ysmenofmeriden.com or call 203-238-7784.

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