Not So Blind Eye-opening Session Dispels Myths About Bats

Posted: October 20, 1991

Like bats exiting a cave at dusk, the questions flew at Karen Campbell on Tuesday evening. Campbell, assistant professor of biology at Albright College in Reading, was at the Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol to give a lecture and slide presentation on bats.

The crowd of 175 was mostly young and the popcorn was free. Campbell began by asking the group to describe a bat. A forest of hands rose up.

"Gray."

"Black."

"Big, white fangs!" offered a young boy.

"Cute!," countered a little girl.

Those excited descriptions were soon canceled or confirmed by a series of color slides. Ohs greeted a slide picture of a flying fox (really a bat). Several children said that it looked like a dog. Ahs arose at the picture of the minuscule bumblebee bat. Giggles accompanied the shot of the long-eared bat, with its grotesquely large ears.

Then came the myth-dispelling. Blind as a bat? "All bats can see," said Campbell. Bats attack humans? No, but they are curious. Then the inevitable questions about vampire bats.

"Out of 800 species of bats, only three are vampires," said Campbell. She related with amusement how vampire bats are found only in Central America, yet most vampire stories originate in Europe.

Donna Fasanella of Trenton, who came with her children and some neighbors, expressed interest in Campbell's explanation of the vampire's feeding habits. The bats have small teeth, so the movies are wrong. They scratch the legs of cows and then lick up the trickle of blood. So much for the telltale fang marks on a slender neck.

Jim Iannacone, 11, of Bristol, asked if there was "any way to block their sound," referring to the short waves the bats emit. No, there is not.

Campbell went on to pictures of bats hunting insects. Some bats specialize in eating frogs, and others have been known to eat scorpions. Still others are strictly fruit-eaters.

As the slide show came to an end, questions turned to local species. ''There are eight species of bats in Pennsylvania," said Campbell. One of those, the big brown bat, is the source of most stories of bats in belfries and attics.

Joanna Firman, 8, of Edgely, told the story of a bat in her living room. Her father captured the bat with a net and released it outside, she said. Campbell advised that holes in eaves and other places be plugged with steel wool or netting.

George Carmichael, the first naturalist at the center and now a board member, warned that many bats were threatened during their winter hibernation by cave explorers. If the bats are disturbed and awaken, they become weak, he said, and many perish.

Last week's chilly weather prevented Campbell from capturing bats that she had planned to mark with a luminescent material and release.

The series at the nature center will continue Nov. 19 with a talk on endangered marine mammals. For information, call 785-1177.

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