Ghosts and Ghouls and Florida’s Creepy Crawlies!

wbu bats flying

It’s October in Florida! Time For… Weird, Wild Bird (and other) Profiles! Scooter Aint Skeere’d!

Scooter wants to eat your seeeeed!!!Thanksgiving has Turkeys. Christmas has Cardinals and Doves. But Halloween tops them all with a load of fun and interesting –some would say, “creepy”– flying denizens of the sky just waiting to swoop down and wreak havoc on…. seed stores and bugs! What? Did you think we’d suggest something more sinister? Naaahhh... most fears related to Florida’s less-than-cuddly flying things are completely unwarranted. This week, we open the month of October with a Halloween theme beginning with one of the most misunderstood creatures to grace Florida’s evening skies… the ever-elusive… BAT!

According to WBU Clearwater/Safety Harbor partner, the Florida Bat Conservancy, Florida welcomes 13 different species of bat. Of this 13, seven are what they call, “accidental species” who may not live here but do visit. However, all of Florida’s bats are insectivores, meaning they dine on bugs and not…as many believe…on the pale necks of fair maidens draped in muslin gowns. No! While Vampire Bats do enjoy a tasty meal of blood (Gulp!)… they remain primary citizens of Central and South America where they feed on cattle and common livestock and not, Scooter repeats… NOT… on the necks of village innocents.

WBU Bat House

Florida’s Bats serve an invaluable service to Florida’s communities. Each bat can consume up to 3,000 insects in one night alone. And considering Florida’s annoying over-population of mosquitoes… that’s a benefit that cannot be denied!

While most of Florida’s nighttime aerial dancers live in small groups called colonies, some may actually prefer a more solitary arrangement; living in the hollows of trees, behind palm fronds or in small cavities of buildings. Since some colonies can pose an issue for homeowners and local businesses, Wild Birds Unlimited in Clearwater/Safety Harbor suggests covering small holes or other entry points where bats may seek shelter or a roosting opportunity. If you’d like to safely welcome bats into your community, WBU Clearwater/Safety Harbor also suggests placing its Bat Boxes away from buildings or other structures where bats may be enticed to roost in a colony. Placing Bat Houses in an area of your community will help keep bug populations in check!

Common misconceptions about bats:

AHHH! They’re flying after me! No. They’re not. Although seeing someone dodging a bat’s dive into their personal space is amusing… the assumption that they’re deliberately aiming for someone’s hair or jugular is a myth. Bats use echolocation to spot insects as they fly in the evening skies. Because insects are attracted to light, you may see bats diving close to homes where floodlights are used near porches, deck areas and streets.

Bats are Blind! No, again. Bats actually have very acute vision. They use echolocation as an added sense to track fast moving insects in flight.

Bats are related to birds! Bats are actually related to… US! Primates. Bats have no feathers and birth their young live as opposed to a bird who hatches its young from a fertilized egg.

Photo Courtesy CBS news/ Bat with White Nose Syndrome

Bats have held an often tragic mythology which can lead to a rash of actions damaging to their numbers. Aside from these intrusive actions, often meant to rid large colonies from perfectly harmless roosts, disease can play a large role in their dwindling numbers. White-Nosed Syndrome, first diagnosed in early 2008, stands to wipe out an enormous range of Bat colonies. Roosts in 25 states and five provinces in Canada have succumbed to this disease, wiping out thousands of bats since its detection. According to the National Wildlife Health Center, WNS has caused a sharp and frightening decline in the bat population of nearly 80% in the Northeast United States alone.

This decline not only effects the bat population itself, but farmers who depend upon this crucial animal to deter and prevent growing insect populations who thrive on crops of corn, wheat and other food-bearing plants. Bats are nature’s purest form of insect control, but their numbers are shockingly low.

Ways you can help:

Propagate bat colonies in your community by setting up bat houses and communal areas where bats may seek to populate and roost.

Leave old growth alone. Loss of habitat is another factor injurious to Florida’s bat population. Large trees with gaping holes are perfect for bats to colonize. Unless the tree could do harm to people or property below, it should be left in its place to provide a safe and natural roosting area for a bat colony.

Spread the true word about bats. Aside from ridding our Florida backyards of pesky mosquitoes, bats contribute to the health of  America’s agricultural crops to the tune of  4 – 50 billion dollars a year. Want your food prices to go down? Save a BAT!

Over the centuries these often maligned creatures have sent shivers up the spines of many a theatergoer. From “Dracula” to “Cujo”, bats have been culled into a herd of monsters with no reputation for their inclusion. On the contrary, they provide an invaluable service to humankind keeping sometimes deadly insect infestations to a minimal brink and spreading new growth as they naturally deposit the seeds from the fruit they also enjoy.

With all due respect to Mr. Stoker and Mr. King… as far as these small creatures are concerned, those guys are blind as bats!

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Hammock Bird Banding

A dynamic update on the Migratory Bird Banding Project in Hammock Park, Dunedin, Florida.

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