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Must love bats!
10/12/2018

Of all the creatures on Earth, bats may be the most misunderstood. They’re largely unseen - sleeping during the day and flying at night – and they have an undeserved reputation as spooky and dangerous.

But according to Merlin Tuttle, nothing could be further from the truth. Merlin is considered the father of modern bat conservation and founder of a Texas-based nonprofit that works globally to protect the world's bats.

“We fear most what we understand least,” said Tuttle, who has devoted his career to debunking bat myths and improving the public’s appreciation of bats as gentle, beneficial animals that provide pollination and natural insect control. He notes that “bats maintain long-term social relationships like humans, elephants, and dolphins, and they share information and even adopt orphans.”

Tuttle is the keynote speaker on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the annual Cape May Fall Festival sponsored by New Jersey Audubon. His talk, “The Incredible World of Bats,” will be accompanied by slides of his bat photos taken over 50 years. “Anyone who comes will be amazed at the diversity of bats,” he said. Tuttle will speak again on Sunday morning, Oct. 21, in a more casual question-and-answer format.

Of the fewer than 6,000 known mammals on Earth, over 1,300 are bats – incredible in their varieties, behaviors and looks! According to Tuttle, “some are as cute as a panda and strange as any dinosaur, from tiny bumblebee bats that weigh less than a penny to giant flying foxes with nearly six-foot wing spans.”

New Jersey has six year-round bat species – big brown, little brown, eastern small-footed, tri-colored, northern long-eared and Indiana bats – which hibernate in caves, mines and manmade structures. Our state also has three part-times – hoary, eastern red and silver-haired bats – that migrate south for the winter.

New Jersey’s population of hibernating bats has declined sharply due to white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by a European fungus that found its way into winter hibernation caves in 2009. The fungus wiped out nearly 99 percent of the state’s little brown bats – once our most common species - and northern long-eared bats.

The encouraging news, said Tuttle, is that white-nose syndrome is declining. Bats around the world that survived the initial devastating outbreak are now healthy and reproducing. They’re slowly repopulating their colonies, and their offspring don’t seem affected.

“In Europe and Asia, white-nose no longer harms bats seriously,” Tuttle said. “The day will come when bats here are no longer susceptible.”

That day may be decades away, since bats only have one pup a year. But we can help their recovery by making sure that hibernating bats are not disturbed … even by well-meaning researchers.

“Where bats are not being disturbed, even species like the little brown bat will start to recover,” said Tuttle. “No matter how well intended we are, we’ve got to leave them alone and not cause them to waste energy at a critical time.”

He praised New Jersey wildlife officials for putting policies in place to make sure winter hibernating caves of this state we’re in are rarely entered: “New Jersey is now one of the leading states in giving bats a chance.”

MacKenzie Hall, conservation biologist for the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, said 98 percent of New Jersey’s hibernating bats are protected by bat-friendly access gates, and researchers are allowed to enter the caves and mines only once every few years.

“Bats are very sensitive to disturbance,” she said. “The best thing we can do now is to let those bats rest with as little additional pressure as possible.”

Like Tuttle, Hall has noticed that bats which survived white-nose are now healthy, showing little or no signs of wing membrane damage caused by the fungus. “We almost never see evidence of white-nose anymore,” she said. “Hopefully, those bats will keep having babies and their populations will slowly recover.”

As Halloween approaches, forget the old bat stereotypes and celebrate these wonderful creatures! Bats are the single largest consumer of night-flying insects – including mosquitos, beetles and moths - the value of this natural insect control to agriculture in the U.S. is estimated at $22.9 billion dollars per year. In the tropics and subtropics, bats that feed on pollen, nectar, and fruit perform a valuable service as pollinators.

In short, bats are indispensable and deserve all of our support and protection!

For more information about bats, visit the state’s bat conservation page at  https://njfishandwildlife.com/ensp/bat.htm or Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation website at  www.merlintuttle.org. To find out how to put a bat house on your property, check out the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey website at  http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/downloads/cwnj_630.pdf.

For more information about Tuttle’s appearances at the Cape May Fall Festival, visit  https://njaudubon.org/event/cape-may-fall-festival/.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at  www.njconservation.org or contact me at  info@njconservation.org

 

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