July 11, 2012 - One of nature's most misunderstood creatures is coming to the Oxford Public Library for an informational event that doesn't involve either billionaire superheroes or bloodsucking vampires.
On Wednesday, July 25 at 7 p.m., the library will proudly present "Bats of the World," a one-hour educational show conducted by the Organization for Bat Conservation. The program is for both children (age 7 and up) and adults
"Bats are extremely fascinating to me," said Rob Mies, the conservation group's executive director. "There's over 1,200 species. There are so many myths that surround bats. Their importance is really not understood at all."
Based at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, the Organization for Bat Conservation is the largest grassroots bat conservation education program in the United States. It's dedicated to protecting bats – along with other nocturnal wildlife such as owls, flying squirrels, sugar gliders and two-toed sloths – and the ecosystems they need to survive.
Every year, the program puts on more than 1,500 live shows for more than 250,000 people.
During the "Bats of the World" show, audience members will get up close and personal with four live bats – the Big Brown Bat, which is a local insect-eater; the Egyptian fruit bat from Africa; the Straw-colored Flying Fox, which has a 3-foot wingspan, making it the largest bat in Africa; and the Jamaican leaf-nosed bat from Central America.
"The live animal component really draws people in," Mies said. "Each bat is out (of its carrier) for about 10 minutes, so people will get a close look at them. They're allowed to look, but not touch. Even though they're rescues, they're still wild animals."
In addition to viewing some animals that are "rarely seen" by humans, the show gives the audience the opportunity to hear them.
Bats use sound waves to navigate through the dark. The ability is called echolocation. They emit sounds, which bounce off the objects around them, then use the returning echoes to both find objects and avoid hitting them while flying.
Using an electronic device called a bat detector, the audience will be able to hear the "high frequency sounds" that the Big Brown Bat emits to find his way around. Normally, humans cannot hear these sounds, but this device actually converts them into audible frequencies.
But the show is about more than just looking at and listening to these strange creatures of the night.
"There's so much more complexity to the program," Mies said. "We talk about the unique features that make bats the only mammals that can fly. We talk about the misinformation that's been surrounding bats for centuries."
The show dispels numerous myths about bats and explores the positive impact they have on both the environment and the economy.
"By far, the biggest myth is they're not good for anything – they're just rodents or vermin, a pest," Mies said. "They can be a pest, but so can people."
The most important and beneficial thing bats do for both the environment and humans is control the insect population, which unchecked can be quite destructive.
"They're the primary predators of nighttime insects – moths, beetles, gnats, flies, mosquitoes, just about anything that flies at night," Mies said. "In Michigan, moths and beetles are huge agricultural crop pests. They're forest pests, too. So, bats do a huge favor to humans here in Michigan."
"Bats also pollinate plants and spread seeds," he added. "Hundreds of species of plants around the world rely on bats for either pollination or seed dispersal."
Much of the fresh, exotic produce people enjoy – such as mangos, bananas and avocados – rely on bats to help them grow.
Mies doesn't mind most of the myths about bats, but it does bother him when folks aren't aware of the vital purpose they serve.
"If people think that bats are blind, fine; it's not really a big deal," he said. "But if people don't understand that bats are actually an important part of the ecosystem, that is a big deal."
Although the show is entitled "Bats of the World," there will be plenty of talk about bats that live in this state.
"We have nine different types of bats in Michigan," Mies said. "There's probably five or six different species in the Oxford area. They're all insect-eaters." The most common ones in this area are Big Brown and Little Brown bats, red bats, silver-haired bats and hoary bats.
Those wishing to learn more about how to attract bats – or even get rid of them – are encouraged to attend the show.
"A lot of people want to attract bats (to eat bothersome insects), so we talk about (installing) bat houses," Mies said. "Sometimes they're a nuisance, so people might want to come by to learn about how to humanely evict bats from their house or keep bats from living in their house."
For more information about the Organization for Bat Conservation, please visit www.batconservation.org or tour the organization's Bat Zone at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. It's home to more than 150 rescue bats, encompassing 10 different species from around the world.
"We give a behind-the-scenes, guided tour daily at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.," Mies noted.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.