Environment  October 31, 2014

Nature hits a home run – with a bat

The weeks leading up to Halloween always produce familiar symbols on store shelves and in marketing campaigns, from carved pumpkins to witches, skeletons and bats. But experts both in government and business say bats – instead of creatures to be feared – are important in many ways.

Lauren DeRosa, owner and general manager of the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in Fort Collins, put it simply: “Bats are our friends!”

Colorado is home to 18 species of bats, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is monitoring bat hibernation sites this winter for the effects of White-Nose Syndrome.

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“Bats are an important yet under-appreciated part of our world,” said CPW species conservation coordinator Tina Jackson. “This threat is something we all should be worried about.”

The syndrome, named for the white fungal powder seen on infected bats, is responsible for large-scale bat die-offs in the eastern United States. It hasn’t been found yet in Colorado, but has spread to half the states and Canadian provinces. State wildlife officials want the public to report seeing any active or dead bats this winter by calling their “bat phone” at 303-291-7771 or emailing Wildlife.Batline@state.co.us.

All the bat species found in Colorado are insect eaters, in some cases consuming thousands of insects a night. That diet makes bats important for the control of agricultural and human pests – especially mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.

DeRosa said sales of bat houses have been fairly steady at her store. “First, bats are here already,” she said, “and if they choose to roost in an attic or under the eaves, the guano becomes a problem. And second, people want them around so they’ll eat mosquitoes.”

The houses can either be mounted on a pole or under a home’s eaves. “You need a very well-lit sunny area,” she said, “They’ll roost in there during the day, and it could get up to 120 degrees in there, but as soon as the sun sets they’ll come out and start eating bugs.”

Both DeRosa and wildlife officials work to dispel the mythology and fear that popular culture has built up around the animals.

“They’re great partners,” she said. “We need happy, healthy bats.”

The weeks leading up to Halloween always produce familiar symbols on store shelves and in marketing campaigns, from carved pumpkins to witches, skeletons and bats. But experts both in government and business say bats – instead of creatures to be feared – are important in many ways.

Lauren DeRosa, owner and general manager of the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in Fort Collins, put it simply: “Bats are our friends!”

Colorado is home to 18 species of bats, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is monitoring bat hibernation sites this winter for the effects of White-Nose Syndrome.

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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