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Bats


I missed last Thursday’s post, deep into reading a craft book to help me with revision of my thesis novel. But that day’s subject is important—bats. Yes, it was national bat day or something like that, and the critters get a bad rap.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, Mr. Bat hung out on my back porch. The first time I encountered him, I startled him. He flew away, which means he swooped down from his perch, and I felt like I needed to duck. Yeah, a bit scary, until I studied bats and realized that in order to generate lift (meaning in order to fly) he needed to get speed, and the best way to do that is to let gravity assist you. All those semesters of physics and aeronautical engineering finally useful! He wasn’t swooping at me—he was trying to get away. After that, Mr. Bat got a morning or evening greeting from me, and I appreciated sitting on my porch more since the mosquito population decreased, all thanks to him.

Now in Texas, I live close enough to one of the world’s largest bat caves so that each night in the summer just before sunset, the sky fills with bats, their crazy jinking the envy of fighter pilots. They don’t flutter aimlessly, but dart here and there with precision. I walk the dog looking upward—and Mae-Mae looks at the road for cars, we’re quite the pair to watch—the whole walk I’m fascinated by their speed and ability to avoid each other, obstacles, and humans. Because of their nightly hunts, I don’t need to wear bug spray. The coolest thing is, the bat cave nightly emergence leaves a signature so that it looks like there’s a rainstorm on the weather radar when the skies are clear and blue.

The bats in that cave colony are females, and the cave is their nursery roost. Up to 15-million bats occupy it, so it’s a marvel that the momma bats can leave their young yet still find them in the swarm upon their return to nurse them. Many of the young bats won’t survive their first year. Of all things, their first flight is what’s most likely to kill them because the moment they try it, it’s the first use of their wings and their first use of their collision-avoidance echoing capability. Luck has more to do with survival than skill on that initial flight, but if they master it, they wait out the rest of the summer and migrate to Mexico in the fall. So, between August and October, the nightly bat cave emergence has double the number than in the spring/early summer.

That means the moth and mosquito populations in my neighborhood decrease significantly as the summer goes on. And the “cloud” that appears on radar each night gets bigger and denser (more yellow than green so it looks like heavier rainfall). So, even though in the hottest days of summer I want those radar returns to really be rain, I’ll still take the bats. They provide a service to us keeping the pests away, allowing us a better atmosphere for barbeques and gatherings. And they’re as much a part of my neighborhood as anyone.


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