Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bats in Books Part I

Memorial Day weekend is the start of summer picnic season, and at my house at least, bat watching. What could be more relaxing after a late dinner on the deck than gazing at bats overhead, snatching bugs so that we can lounge outside a little longer?

Tonight’s rain is grounding (or tree-ing) our little brown bats, but I’m still thinking about them. It’s Rachel Carson’s 100th birthday, and I’m celebrating by writing about an insect deterrent more powerful than DDT. Researchers have calculated that bats from one cave in central Texas gobble 200 tons of insects on a summer night. Merlin Tuttle, the patron saint of bat conservation, emphasizes the pest-control value of bats to combat prejudices that lead to poisoning, shooting, and even dynamiting bats in their roosting caves. Yet fear of bats still often trumps recognition of their economic value, and killings and habitat destruction persist. Understanding that attitude change is key to bats’ survival, Tuttle founded Bat Conservation International in 1982. That makes this year BCI’s silver anniversary as well as Carson's Centennial.

I wish I knew of an action adventure tale, perhaps something like Sy Montgomery’s Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest, for readers interested in bats. Despite an intense period of bat study last spring, I haven’t found any bat-centered novels, either. There are so many children’s books about bats that I’m planning a separate post about them. Here, I’ll just recommend three nonfiction works for adults that I've found quite useful:

Walker’s Bats of the World, by Ronald Nowak (1994). It’s the most comprehensive guide to the world’s 1000+ bat species, addressing taxonomy, distribution, behavior, and ecology. It features an extensive bibliography and black-and-white photos.

America’s Neighborhood Bats, by Merlin Tuttle (revised 2005). Tuttle’s spectacular photos quickly convey the diversity and grace of his subjects. Part ID key, part how-to (for tasks ranging from evicting bats from your attic and to building bat boxes for your yard), this brief book dispels myths and urges a fact-based change in public attitudes as essential for long-term conservation.

Beginner’s Guide to Bats, by Kim Williams and Rob Mies (2002). Williams and Mies are co-founders of another major bat protection group, the Organization for Bat Conservation. They focus on 45 North American species, providing range maps, habitat preferences, and typical behaviors to help you find and identify neighborhood species. I especially appreciate the state lists that narrow down the possibilities to a manageable few.

If the rain blows over, we’ll be outside tomorrow night, munching chips and checking the sky for bats. Someday, we hope a small colony will shelter inside the box my son built as a homeschool project. Eight-year-old Eli could symbolize the success of Bat Conservation International, which Tuttle says in Neighborhood Bats “was founded in the hope that when the shrouds of myth and superstition are stripped away, bats will be appreciated as fascinating and likeable animals.” Rachel Carson certainly liked them as long ago as 1944, when she published one of the first popular treatments of bat echolocation in Collier’s magazine, “The Bat Knew It First.” But Carson would also agree with Tuttle’s sober assertion, “Even more important, we need bats whether we like them or not; their loss poses serious, potentially irreversible consequences to the environment that we all must share.”


Cyd said...

My husband just realized that Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring less than one mile from where he grew up.

We play a game in our neighborhood which I hope doesn't harm the bats. Throw a tennis ball up in the air and nearby bats will swerve to check it out. The kids are therefore always excited when the bats start cruising the skies on warm spring night. That's a good thing.

pinenut said...

Hi Cyd,

If your husband is interested in seeing the house, he could contact the Rachel Carson Council to arrange a private tour or find out about future open houses. Contact the council at 301-593-7507 or e-mail

Here's a link to an article that I did on Carson for the Audubon Naturalist News this spring: . It includes reminiscences by people who knew her, such as a neighbor of hers (and your husband's) who knew her when he was in middle school.

My kids are going to love that tennis ball game. Thanks for the idea! Kids almost always like interacting with wildlife more than just watching them. It would be a worthwhile activity to collect ideas like yours to give kids more ways to enjoy and study wildlife.