Column: Minnesota bats threatened by fungal diseaseDuring Halloween bats are often portrayed as creepy, blood-sucking monsters. Inaccurate images of bats as monsters can thwart efforts to protect bats by propagating anxiety and misinformation.
By: Maicie Syke and Sarah Wilcox, For the Budgeteer News
During Halloween bats are often portrayed as creepy, blood-sucking monsters. Inaccurate images of bats as monsters can thwart efforts to protect bats by propagating anxiety and misinformation.
We much prefer the comparison to Batman — bats are heroes that save us every night by eating pesky insects and pollinating our crops while we sleep soundly! In fact, by consuming agricultural pests, bats save the United States more than $3.7 billion annually in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.
At the Lake Superior Zoo, we are committed to educating people about the important role bats play in our ecosystem and economy through activities such as outreach programs, our teacher-student activity guides, and our “To the Bat House!” scavenger hunt at local parks.
This summer, White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) was discovered in two Minnesota State Parks, the Soudan Underground Mine and the Forestville Mystery Cave.
This fungal disease has killed 5.7 million bats since it was discovered
in 2006 and is fast becoming a wildlife health crisis. The white fungus grows around the noses of hibernating bats, causing them to wake up multiple times during
hibernation to groom. Eventually, the bats leave their hibernation sites during the harsh winter weather and starve or freeze to death.
The fungus can be spread from bat to bat, from a bat visiting an infected hibernation site, and from humans who have been in contaminated caves.
You can help prevent the spread of WNS.
It’s best to not enter caves when you know bats are living there. It’s especially important to not enter caves in the winter when bats are hibernating or if there’s a DNR closing sign at the cave’s entrance.
If you do like to explore caves, make sure you always wash your shoes, clothes and equipment before you enter a different cave.
You can also help bats by building a bat house for your property. This gives bats alternative places to roost and raise their young in the summer when they leave their caves. They’ll repay you by helping control the mosquito population in your neighborhood! Instructions for how to build a bat house can be found at www.batcon.org.
Finally, you can help bats by making a contribution to Bat Conservation International (BCI), the leading organization protecting bats and researching White-Nose Syndrome. The Lake Superior Zoo’s American Association of Zoo Keepers supports BCI through annual pumpkin sales. Anytime between October 12 and Halloween, stop by the zoo to pick out your pumpkin and 50 percent of the proceeds will go to BCI.
“To the Bat House!” scavenger hunt
Looking for a fun way to explore Duluth’s parks while teaching your family about the importance of Minnesota’s seven bat species? Head outdoors on a bat house scavenger hunt!
How to play: There are four bat houses at parks around Duluth. Find the bat house and sign at each park, write down the star questions, then answer the star questions. Bring your answers to the Lake Superior Zoo gift shop for a prize. You must find two bat houses to get a prize, but we challenge you to find all four. You can start the scavenger hunt at any of the following four locations.
• Popular with picnickers since the 1890s, this park displays evidence of Glacial Lake Duluth, trees more than 100 years old, and a swimming hole known as “The Deeps.”
• Completed in 1908, this home belonged to the wealthiest family in Duluth. The estate was donated to become a historic museum and displays its original furniture and artwork.
• Named after the family who homesteaded the area, this park has volcanic rock that is more than one billion years old, some of the oldest rock on earth.
• Established in 1880, this is one of the oldest parks in Duluth, and features trails, waterfalls, and elephant rock.
Maicie Syke is the lead keeper and Sarah Wilcox is the director of education at the Lake Superior Zoo.