Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Night visitor

Clouds moving in ahead of rain - 7:30 a.m.
August is starting to feel a lot like early September to me.  At the moment August 2012 is running at a pace that would make it the third coolest August in Harrisburg’s years of weather records. That’s fine with me.  I just hope this doesn’t mean September 2012 brings August-like temperatures, because that would just be cruel.

Last night as I was running Baby Dog outside for the last time, I watched a bat twirling among the trees near the cabin. It favored the open spot where my driveway meets the lane.  It was a surprise to see one there. Usually, I see them around the one or the other of the ponds that are out in the open. My cabin isn’t very far from one of the snowmaking ponds, though, especially in bat-distance.

I don’t know for certain what species it was, but it was a small bat, so it was very likely the Little Brown Bat, which is the most common on the 9 species found in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has several species of small bats, and if you have one in your hand you could certainly identify the species from its color or tail shape.  But since it is dark enough that I can’t see any colors, differentiating the species is impossible for me.
Bats are good neighbors, since they eat thousands of nasty bugs during a summer. I’m sure you know that they eat mosquitoes but they also eat those infernal stinkbugs.  As far as I know, which might not be much, bats are about the only predator of those things, so that alone gives them high marks from me.  Bats have a bad name, and I’m not sure why.  From horror movies, maybe?  I often heard the words bats and rabies muttered in the same sentence but that connection is pretty much a misnomer.  Although any mammal can contract rabies, the incidence of rabies in bats is low, less than 0.5%, though something like 2-5% of sick or dead bats that people find do have the virus.

White nose syndrome has killed many more bats than rabies.  Information I’ve read puts the death toll at 6-7 million in North America. White nose syndrome is apparently caused by a fungus, and with no known treatment the mortality rate is about 95%.  The syndrome thrives in cooler temperatures, and apparently is adapted to attacking hibernating bats.  Infection wakes the bats up during hibernation and they often starve to death.

This time of year, the little bat that I saw probably doesn’t have to worry about white nose syndrome. I just hope that in another month or so, when it goes into hibernation, that it doesn’t have to worry about it then, either.

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