Educational online seminar aimed at building awareness about bat conservation and ecology
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — As white-nose syndrome devastates bat colonies across the country, resource managers and conservation biologists have been struggling to help people understand how just important the flying mammals are to American agriculture and ecosystems.
For many people bats are one of those semi-mythical animals — associated with Halloween and vampires, Meanwhile, their role as incredibly valuable pollinators and voracious predators of insects is overlooked.
Next week, the Forest Service will try and create more awareness about bats with a live educational webcast (Sept. 18) from Bracken Cave near San Antonio, Texas, home of the world’s largest bat colony, to help students across the country learn about one of the most misunderstood yet beneficial creatures in the world.
The webcast is a part of BatsLIVE! A Distance Learning Adventure, a free education program that aims to bring the best of bat information and research to help children understand the value of bats and the conservation challenges they face.
The BatsLive! webinar will allow students and participants to view millions of the Mexican free-tailed bats take flight from the cave, where they live from March through October. The webcast also will offer information on these and other bat species, predators that wait for the nightly emergence of the bats, and other threats to bats, including the deadly white-nose syndrome.
“Bats are vital to healthy ecosystems and human economies worldwide,” said Dennis Krusac, a biologist with the Forest Service’s Threatened and Endangered Species program. “Bats are primary predators of night-flying insects, consuming enormous quantities of agricultural and forest pests and reducing the need for chemical pesticides.”
In Texas, the 20 million bats flying from Bracken Cave consume some 250,000 pounds of insects each night. The cave holds one of the largest concentrations of mammals on earth, and their emergence as they spiral out of the cave at dusk looks like a tornado and sounds like a waterfall.
The web-based broadcast will be the first such program from Bracken Cave and will feature bat biologists and educators.
BatsLIVE! is a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and more than 18 other federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations and the Prince William County, Va., public schools. The program uses a dynamic website, webinars and live webcasts to help children understand the value of bats in their lives, and the conservation challenges they face.
BatsLIVE! is patterned after other popular distance learning programs including PollinatorLIVE! and MonarchLIVE!, which receive Forest Service support to provide online resources for teachers and students.
The related BatsLIVE! website features in-depth bat information – such as the fact that there are more than 1,200 species of bats – about one-fifth of all mammal species – ranging from the tiny bumblebee bat, the world’s smallest mammal weighing less than a penny, to the giant flying foxes that have six-foot wingspans. Bats Conservation International, a BatsLIVE! partner, provides more bat facts and information.