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Look out for baby bats. CT DEEP says the bug-eating mammal plays a crucial role in agriculture and the economy

Hartford Courant logo Hartford Courant 8/8/2022 Pam McLoughlin, Hartford Courant

Bat season is here, so don’t be shocked if the winged mammals appear in attics or if little ones learning to fly crash into picnic tables, low bushes, driveways or meet with other misfortune.

“This time of year they’re injured in their first flight or fall out of the nest or have unfortunate contact with cats,” said Jenny Dickson, director of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s wildlife division. “Like young everything else, they make mistakes.”

It may not seem like a big deal to those who find them or see them around — and some may even be frightened because bats have an undeserved image problem, the experts say.

But Dickson said every bat counts and folks can help monitor them by reporting sightings to DEEP. The agency even wants to hear from people who find dead bats because it may help studies of the diminishing, yet environmentally valuable animal.

“They’re really important to the ecosystem health,” Dickson said. “It’s the single biggest predator we have of night-flying insects,” which affects the economics of agriculture across the country.

To compound the urgency, the population of most “cave” bats has decreased by more than 95% in recent years because of white nose syndrome, a fungus that often leads to bat death, Dickson said.

The syndrome has caused the death of millions of bats across North America, the DEEP website states.

Dickson said this time of years pups have finished nursing and are taking flight for the first time beginning in mid-July. The goal is to learn to fly — it’s how they eat — and put on weight by hibernation time in about October.

Bats eat mosquitos, moths, beetles, katydids and more.

Many night-flying insects cause agricultural damage across the country. Not having bats to control them could cost billions in pest control, Dickson said, and also mean food containing more pesticides.

“It has a tremendous amount of economic impact that people don’t think about,” Dickson said.

Of the nine types of bats found in Connecticut, three are on the state’s endangered list and one is on the federal list as threatened, she said.

“Basically its really bad news for all of them,” Dickson said.

Dickson said DEEP is working several angles to look for a solution to the white nose syndrome and also using education to reach the public about the importance of bats, as well as dispelling many myths.

On Sept. 10 DEEP will for the 10th year hold a Bat Appreciation Day at Old New-Gate Prison in East Granby, with details to be announced. The celebration of bats will have lots of activities.

Myths about bats

Hollywood has contributed to the negative perception of bats, Dickson said, including the animal’s association with Halloween - even though most bats are asleep in a cave by then hibernating.

Dickson said while “the public perception of bats has started to change,” there’s a ways to go.

“They’re really amazing little animals we shouldn’t be afraid of,” Dickson said. “Bats are incredibly helpful.”

Bats are not flying rodents as many believe, but rather more closely related to primates or humans, Dickson said.

The phrase “Blind as a bat,” is also a misnomer, Dickson said, because bats can see fine but have small eyes because when they’re out at night searching for insects they rely on their ability to echo-locate, Dickson said. That helps them find out how big and how fast the pray is going.

Another misconception is that bats will fly into a head and somehow get tangled in hair.

When they swoop near a person’s head they are hunting for insects and it’s not unusual for insects to congregate above a person’s head, she said.

“When there’s an inadvertent collision it’s probably because we saw a bat and panicked,” Dickson said.

Rehabilitators do their part

Gerri Griswold, a wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in bats and is a director at White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, said the calls about bats in attics and houses, are “nonstop this time of year.”

The key is in educating children about bats and how they need to be “celebrated” so the children convey the message to their parents, grandparents, siblings.

Griswold, known as “The Bat Lady,” gives educational sessions at the center — with a collection of caged bats — and also visits schools and other programs.

Her life changed in 1992, Griswold said, when she found an orphaned baby big brown bat on the ground that apparently had been dropped by its mother.

She brought it in, fed it goat’s milk and to her surprise it survived and lived for years. No one should touch a bat, she and Dickson stressed, because they can carry rabies, although the chances of a rabid bat are extremely low.

Griswold has permits to handle them.

“She put my life on a different course,” Griswold said of the bat she saved on her farm.

“Every single bat has a value to human kind.” Even vampire bats — not found in this area — have value in medicine, she said.

“There isn’t an animal on our planet that affects mankind more positively on a day to day basis than a bat,” Griswold said. “Every single one of their lives is precious because I can’t eat 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.”

Rehabilitator Linda Bowen of Falls Village, said she’s been getting lots of calls about juveniles found on the ground after trying to fly.

“It takes them several days to get the hang of flying,” she said.

Bowen said it’s important for people to remember that if they find a bat during daylight this time of year they shouldn’t think it’s sick or rabid.

DEEP works to save bats

Dickson, who like Griswold, has been working with bats for about 30 years said DEEP is taking numerous approaches to saving bats, including putting out structures and bat houses to keep them safe and remove some of the stressors exacerbated by white nose syndrome.

White nose syndrome damages bats in part by interrupting their hibernation, Dickson said. If they struggle with hibernation they lose fat reserves, she said.

One way to take stress off the bats, Dickson said, is to prevent people from disturbing them during hibernation, often in caves.

Scientists have also been working on isolating the deadly fungus, affecting bats across the country.

A lot of work is going into looking for ways to treat the fungus, but many things that are good for treating fungus aren’t good for bats, she said.

“It’s a complicated process,” she said. “We’re hoping over time they’re going to build up a natural immunity.”

Dickson said a bat can live for 30 to 40 years and they reproduce “slowly” giving birth to one pup a year.

“It can literally take decades for the population to rebound,” Dickson said. “We’re starting to understand how much they help us and how much they need our help right now.”

To report observing a bat, find the “Bat Sightings” form on the DEEP website, take a photo if possible and report your observations. Email the form to deep.batprogram@ct.gov. or for more information call 860-424-3011.

©2022 Hartford Courant. Visit courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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