A dynamic duo descended at Fort McCoy Aug. 22 to spread the
word about their passion for bats and what bats can do for the
installation and its ecological system.
Richard West, a bat researcher, helped construct three
artificial bat house sites at Fort McCoy under the guidance of Mike
Bakke, better known as the Wisconsin bat specialist.
The housing sites are approximately 15 feet off the ground and
have more than 10 structures each to house bats.
group of interested people observes the bat house site near the
Sparta-Fort McCoy Airport on South Post. (Photo
by Rob Schuette)
At one of the sites near the Sparta-Fort McCoy Airport, the two
talked about the project, which began in February and already is
showing good results.
Bat feces or guano, found
at the site, indicated that little brown bats, the most common species
of bats in the area, were using the structures.
"Many times, people
don't get bats in the houses right away," Bakke said. "These
bats are migratory and will fly down the Mississippi when colder
weather arrives. We hope they'll return next year, bring their friends
and begin to breed."
Eventually, each of the three sites could house as many as
10,000 bats, he said. The bat houses have differing habitat
arrangements where the nocturnal bats can spend the daylight hours in
hiding before beginning their search for food during the nighttime
West began the project as a member of the Wisconsin
Conservation Corps (WCC) work crew at Fort McCoy.
WCC crewmembers get four hours a week to pursue educational
projects, and West made bats his priority.
"I went out at nights for about a month, using a spotlight
to look for bats," West said. "This location is good,
because it's an open area, the wetlands provide a lot of insects and
there's not a lot of disturbance. Bats tend to be very private
Bakke, who has been working with bats for more than 20 years,
said bats are very misunderstood.
First, one of the more popular misconceptions is that bats have
a high incidence of rabies, while the fact is that the occurrence of
rabies in bats is less than one-half of 1 percent.
Second, bats are not physically a threat to people and don't
look to attack them.
"Bats don't want to interact with people," West said.
"Like any wild animal if you disturb them or try to touch them,
they will defend themselves and may bite. Bats' biggest enemy is
humans, who destroy their habitats and kill the bats - far more than
any of the bats' natural predators do."
Bats are ravenous eaters and normally range in weight from
three grams to 35 grams. The 35 grams is equal to just one and
one-quarter ounces. Yet, a single, little brown bat can eat up to 600
mosquitoes in an hour. A nursing little brown bat mother can eat more
than 4,500 insects (more than her body weight) in one night.
West, a bat researcher, checks a bat house site at Fort McCoy to
see if it's inhabited. (Photo
by Rob Schuette)
Kim Mello, installation wildlife biologist, said bats are
native species and are part of the rich biodiversity found on Fort
McCoy. They also play an
important ecological role in helping control insect populations. Using
bats to control insects, such as mosquitoes, is much more
environmentally friendly than using pesticides, West added.
Bakke said with the recent news about mosquito-borne illnesses,
such as the West Nile Virus and La Crosse encephalitis, that bats may
help reduce the risk.
"We don't know yet, but the bats eat insects, and we hope
they would eat mosquitoes that are capable of carrying diseases,"
Bakke said he hopes studies can be done at Fort McCoy to
indicate what the bats are eating. Two ways to check this are by
examining feces and by having the bats regurgitate their meals.
Research and documenting information is very important because
it helps people understand how bats live, Bakke said.
One important source of information is the Bat Conservation
International North American Bat House Research Project, which can be
found at the Web site www.batcon.org.
The project tracks data including the color, shape, depth and
size structures that attract bats. Bakke said the color black works
well in Wisconsin. At
Fort McCoy, structure shape also appears to be playing a role as the rocket-like
structures are more inhabited than the other flatter-shaped
structures, he said.
One of the things he did for the Fort McCoy structure was to
bring part of a Minnesota structure that previously attracted bats.
Bakke said the structure was soaked in bat feces and urine.
West and Bakke said they will provide informational sessions to
area students and groups about the project, believed to be the largest
of its kind in Wisconsin.
Bakke added they also will seek support from students and other
educational personnel for the project.