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Bat study sheds light on nocturnal fliers

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By Emile Hallez

Blood-sucking, rabies-carrying, flying-blind mice might seem like suitable subjects for a school research project, especially around Halloween. But if the subjects in question are bats, a group of second-graders at Coronado Elementary School would be quick to correct such common misconceptions about the tiny creatures they have come to hold dear.

The students in Barb Weisiger’s class took part in an enrichment program that required each second-grader to present interesting bat facts in the form of a homemade nonfiction book and, using newfound bat knowledge, to help assemble houses for the area’s flying mammals.

“Most people think that bats are scary and terrible, but they aren’t,” said Aria Marizza, 7. “So it’s nice to have us doing this so people know the real thing about bats. And they actually help us with our community.”

Bat contributions to the community include pollinating plants such as banana and avocado trees and gulping down hundreds of mosquitoes every hour.

“My favorite kind of bat is a vampire bat,” said 7-year-old Katie Kiel. Despite spooky myths that bats thrive on fresh blood, only a few species actually ingest it, and none sucks blood from their prey. Vampire bats knick the skin of unsuspecting animals, usually cows, and lick blood until they are content.

“The reason I chose (this project) was that there are so many misconceptions about bats, and bats are so important to our neighborhoods,” Weisiger said. “Our neighborhoods have a lot of bats in them.”

And if her class’ effort is successful, many of those neighborhood bats will eventually move into fancy new houses mounted outside the school and on students’ homes. One parent designed the thin bat houses and cut all the necessary wooden pieces so that students could assemble them in class.

“It can hold about 100 bats,” Molly Knott, 8, author of “Bats: The Amazing Night Flyers,” said of each bat house.

Though many of the bat houses are already mounted, it could take a few years before they have occupants.

“Bats are very picky about where they live,” Weisiger said, noting that the dimensions of the structure must be specific enough to let bats in but keep potential predators out.

Even if the houses sit empty for a while, their presence testifies to the students’ newfound appreciation for the winged creatures.

When Weisiger asked her class how bats flap their wings, for example, all hands shot up. The students rotated their arms in big circles, and when she asked if bats flapped up and down, they all shook their heads.

“In the beginning, they were all kind of afraid of bats and didn’t see the purpose of bats,” Weisiger said. “I learned a lot about bats along the way, too.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.