The U.S. Forest Service will shine a light on a misunderstood mammal this weekend.
The agency is hosting Bat Week, an international celebration that raises awareness of the furry-winged creatures, with exhibits and talks in Juneau and Ketchikan. From 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday through Sunday, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center will serve up educational programs on Alaska’s bats, including arts and crafts for children.
“Bat Week is used to highlight the importance of bats and it’s done around Halloween because it seems like an apropos time to think about bats since people think of them as these spooky creatures and everything,” Ben Limle, a wildlife biologist for the USFS in Ketchikan, said in an interview on Tuesday.
Bat Conservation International organizes the event, and includes materials and resources for Bat Week at batweek.org. There are most than 1,300 bat species around the world, according to BCI, and their predation of insects serve as a pest control that can benefit farmers.
Limle has a similarly-positive outlook on bats.
While with the USFS in Kentucky, the biologist got up-close-and-person with the mammals. As part of a public presentation he will give Thursday in Ketchikan, the biologist will debunk myths about the nocturnal creatures, such as their characterization as aggressive, blood-sucking creatures.
“I never thought bats could be cute at all, but a lot of these smaller bats in the Genus Myotis — which that genus means mouth-eared bats — are kind of cute looking,” said Limle, who added the three species of vampire bats live in Central and South America and don’t prey on humans. “That was one of the big surprising things to me. They’ve got these small eyes, (they) almost look like a puppy.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is conducting the Alaska Citizen Science Bat Program, which brings in data from citizen scientists who can help locate the winged creatures’ dens, or hibernacula. During a Fireside Lecture at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in March, ADFG biologist Karen Blejwas said there’s about 10 hibernacula around Juneau, mostly near North Douglas or Admiralty Island.
“One of the reasons why the state really started to put a lot of effort into studying bats — it kind of kicked off around 2006 and 2007 — is because white-nose syndrome hit,” Limle said. “It’s a fungal disease killed a lot of bats all across the East. It showed up in New York State in 2006 and since then it’s killed an estimated more than six million bats.”
Limle said bats are hard to spot, but not impossible for residents of Southeast Alaska. He recommended keeping an eye out around water bodies at dusk.
“Bats are just about everywhere,” Limle said. “Even in Alaska, little brown bats are fairly well distributed and here in Southeast we have the highest diversity of bats of anywhere else in the state because it’s more mild temperatures down this way.”
To learn more about the Alaska Citizen Science Bat Program, go to www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=citizenscience.main.
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