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Published: Thursday, 6/12/2003

Admirers go to bat for maligned flyers

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - For an animal that eats about 6,000 meals every evening, you would think that the bats native to Monroe County would have more of a weight problem.

But it is the huge appetites of these small creatures that should have people taking another look at them and doing what they can to make them feel more at home, maybe by even building them a home.

The Community Foundation of Monroe County and the Youth Advisory Council are sponsoring several seminars this summer, beginning tomorrow, on the beauty and usefulness of one of nature's most misunderstood winged creatures.

The Organization for Bat Conservation, which is based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve bats and their habitats through education, collaboration, and research.

Its employees work with local health departments and other governmental agencies to aid in public health issues associated with bats, and its trained field biologists conduct research on endangered bats.

Regarded as a nuisance, bats have taken on a new persona of sorts as West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases arrived in the United States three years ago.

Now the winged mammals are prized for their ability to consume vast numbers of mosquitoes and other pesky insects each evening.

West Nile Virus, OBS education specialist Dawn Vezina said, “has sparked interest in bats from a lot more people, which in turn has picked up business,” around her organization.

Just one 4-inch “Big Brown,” the most common of all bat species native to southeast Michigan, can eat between 600 and 1,200 night-flying insects every hour, and up to 6,000 in a single evening, Ms. Vezina said.

That means that just a few bats roosting in a bat house can keep an average-sized yard almost mosquito-free each evening, and put a major crimp in the blood-sucking varmint population.

While bats can contract West Nile, just like birds or other mammals, it can only do so from the bite of an infected mosquito, not from eating the little buggers, Ms. Vezina explained.

Still, health officials say an explosion in the local bat population might carry its own risks, because bats can carry rabies and spread it to humans.

The most direct way to prevent getting infected with West Nile Virus is to use common sense, county Health Department Director Judy Heath said.

“The best thing people can do is use personal protection and get rid of standing water. The key is to control the mosquitoes and to wear something so you don't get bit,” Mrs. Heath said.

The exact population of bats in Monroe County or southeast Michigan is unknown, but they are common in the area, Ms. Vezina said.

Nine species of bats are native to the state.

“Bats are very hard to study as far as numbers go because their roosting spots are very hidden,” she said.

At the library programs, OBC researchers will display at least three live bats, including at least one species of “mega-bat,” which regularly soar over rainforests across the tropical world on wings more than 3-feet wide, Ms. Vezina said.

The first bat programs will start tomorrow in Monroe, with one at 3:30 p.m. at the Navarre Branch Library on the city's East Side and another at 7 p.m. at the Ellis Branch Library on South Custer Road. Other programs will be presented:

w June 24 - 3 p.m. at the Petersburg Branch Library; 6 p.m. at the Dundee Branch Library.

w July 14 - 3:30 p.m. at the Erie Branch Library; 6 p.m. at the Frenchtown Branch Library.

w July 17 - 3:30 p.m. at the Dorsch Branch Library, downtown Monroe; 7 p.m. at the Carleton Branch Library.



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