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Archive for Friday, November 22, 1996

BATSMAN

November 22, 1996

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A Kansas University student hopes his bat-house project at Clinton Lake will increase visibility of the winged, nocturnal creatures, while a KU professor helps debunk the bat fables.

Myth No. 1: Bats are flying rats. They're actually mammals, just like us.

Myth No. 2: Bats are vicious vampires. Truth is, bats pose no threat to humans and will adopt orphans (bat, not human) and risk their lives to feed them. Most don't suck blood; the vampire bat in Latin America is the only mammal to live entirely on blood.

Myth No. 3: Bats are partial to cold, dark places. Dark, yes, but many of the Kansas species fly south for the winter.

And so on.

Despite the best efforts of ``Batman'' protagonists Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney, bats have never obtained the "cute" status of, say, the average squirrel (some of which also fly, and are more likely than bats to have an opportunity to bite).

Bat advocates remind us that bats are as useful as they are harmless. National and international wildlife groups have dedicated online pages to bat image makeovers and conservation. And a Kansas University freshman -- in order to become an Eagle Scout -- recently built bat houses in the Clinton Lake area as a community service project.

What many may not know: In northeast Kansas, bats are as plentiful as the night is long.

"There are actually many more around than people realize," said Robert Timm, associate professor of systematics and ecology at Kansas University. "They just don't see them because they're active at night."

The most common species found in the Lawrence area is the big, brown bat. You're most likely to find one of these nesting in the attic of an old house or campus building, Timm said. Just one of these furry creatures can devour between 3,000 and 7,000 mosquitoes in a night.

Northeast Kansas also boasts the hoary bat, silver haired bat and little brown bat. All snap up mosquitoes and moths.

"Bats play a very important role in nature in terms of consuming insects," Timm said. "And the feces is very good fertilizer."

Bats will bite, but only in self-defense. The "small ones, they're teeth are so minute, they couldn't break the skin," Timm said. "All animals will bite" if threatened, he said.

None of the area species is endangered. But one type of little brown bat that lives in storm sewers in Pittsburg is threatened, as is the big eared bat in extreme southwest Kansas, Timm said.

Nevertheless, Allan Lundsgaarde of Lawrence hoped to give bats near Clinton Lake a place to roost. After building and installing eight bat houses this summer with fellow Scouts, Lundsgaarde said the project was a learning experience.

"I feel like I know a little bit more -- I'm certainly no expert," said Lundsgaarde, who tentatively plans to study one of the sciences at KU.

Theresa Rasmussen, a former Clinton Park ranger who urged Lundsgaarde to start the project, said the idea of building bat houses was unique to the lake habitat.

"I was interested in the public learning more about bats and becoming aware that there really are bats here," Rasmussen said.

Response may not be immediate. The bat species in Douglas County are generally not partial to bat houses, Timm said. The key word could be patience.

"It's unfortunate that we don't get very good occupancy of bat houses," Timm said. "Maybe they'll be occupied in the future -- it takes bats a long time to find them."

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