ELKINS - An old expression claims some folks are "as blind as a bat," but Cynthia Sandeno, ecologist for the Monongahela National Forest, dispelled that myth Monday as she led the YMCA Summer Youth program through activities to learn the truth about bats.
Campers, who gathered at the Elkins City Park, learned bats can see just as well as humans - in fact, bats share many traits similar to humans.
"Bats are nocturnal - they come out at night to hunt for food," Sandeno said. "It is hard for humans to see when it is dark, as well. Bats use echolocation - making high-pitched sounds that bounce back to them - to detect how big or small objects are, and how far away they are placed."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
YMCA Summer Camp members learn about bats Monday at the Elkins City Park. Ecologist Cynthia Sandeno, of the Monongahela National Forest, shows a bat skeleton to Jake Barnes, Liaha Paynter and Summer Williams.
Sandeno said bats help humans by eating insects that would eat our food, like corn, and they also eat insects such as mosquitoes that bite humans. She said bats are similar to humans in that both are mammals, warm-blooded, have hair, give birth to live young and feed milk to their young.
"Baby bats are very small," Sandeno said. "They are about the size of a quarter. Bats have wings which are very thin. The bone structure in their wings is similar to those of human hands. Bats use their thumbs to hold onto trees or rocks."
Sandeno led the students in an echolocation game where they learned to use their ears, rather than their eyes, to locate one another. Campers flapped their arms as many times as possible in 30 seconds to imitate bats flapping their wings.
"Bats flap their wings about 720 times per minute," Sandeno said. "Bats can eat one half of their body weight a night in bugs."
She told the YMCA campers they would have to eat about 90 Big Mac sandwiches each night to equal, in human terms, what bats eat. She said bats can live to be 30 years old, and most weigh less than half a pound.
"Bats don't want to get near humans," Sandeno said. "They do not get into your hair, and if they get around your head, they are after insects flying near your head."
Sandeno shared other fun bat facts
- Bats have one or two pups a year.
- Bats are clean - they are constantly licking and cleaning themselves.
- Bats can carry rabies, but that is uncommon.
- Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly.
- There are about 13 to 15 species of bats in West Virginia.
Sandeno suggests that folks learn more about bats to alleviate their fears.
"Bats are awesome," she said. "Once people learn about bats, they realize there is little cause for fear."
Sandeno said if bats get into the living space of a home, it is best to catch them in a net when flying or on a wall, then take them outside to release.
"If you have to touch a bat, which is not recommended, please be sure to wear gloves," Sandeno said.
She recommends putting up a bat house, which can be purchased or built from plans available online.
"Many bats are dying from white nose syndrome," Sandeno said. "It has killed six million bats in the last six years. They believe it is caused by a fungus that causes the bats to wake up during hibernation, which uses up their reserve energy."
Students also received bat temporary tattoos and made bat masks during Monday's program.