Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To the Bat Cave!!

Have you ever noticed the pictures on the sides of U-Haul trucks and trailers?  They usually promote national landmarks or tourist attractions in the states and provinces.  They call them Super Graphics and you can learn more about them here.  You can even play your own version of the license plate game by seeing how many different states you can spot on road trips.  The newest designs focus more on natural features in each state--like the new one unveiled last weekend for Missouri.  It features a red bat and echolocation.  Apparently U-Haul offers an educational opportunity when it reveals new graphics.  We took part in their Bat program at Onondaga Cave


with more than 100 other homeschoolers (public school kids were invited in the morning so I don't know how many students there were in all).

The Organization for Bat Conservation traveled down from Michigan with their displays and live animals.  The lady below gave a brief power point presentation before introducing us to two special guests...

This is a Big Brown Bat, the "Big" is part of the name to distinguish it from the Little Brown Bat, but you can see that it's really not that large.  The bats of North America are all considered microbats.  The large ones, like you see chasing Indiana Jones,  live in South America and Asia (and are all fruit bats, so Indy really didn't need to run unless he had a banana hidden in his fedora).  Next she brought out the dreaded Vampire Bat ...
who was not much bigger and really nothing to be scared of.  Incidentally, she keeps these bats with her in her motel room and has to feed them.  The Big Brown Bat gets meal worms and the Vampire  Bat drinks cows blood.  My mind wondered to the thought of an unsuspecting hotel maid getting ready to restock the mini-bar and finding vials of blood inside.  What must she think?

The presenter had a little device that could detect ultrasound and play it in a frequency that humans can hear.  These bats were so used to being handled and being around humans that they were very quiet, but when she fed the meal worms the brown bat started clicking.  I don't know if it was searching for more food or just knew it was time to perform.

Our next learning station was outside.  A large tent was filled with over sized models of bat heads (which really don't seem aerodynamic up close), stuffed bats, free shirts featuring the bat Super Graphic and more.

Here's my Schnickelfritz seeing how loud a tent full of kids can be when you have over sized ears.  He's pretty sensitive to loud noises anyway so the grimace on his face is real.


Here we're learning how scientists capture and study bats.  Each child had a bag with a toy or model bat inside.  They had to weigh the bat and describe it and then the volunteer would find the species in her guide book  (it helped that she knew what the answers were supposed to be in case the descriptions weren't accurate).

Finally we got to go in the cave.  I think it's more beautiful than Meramec Caverns and the lighting is natural--not the colored lights that M.C. uses.  We had a shortened tour (but it was FREE so I'm not complaining).  When we turned around to work our way back out of the cave, the guide asked if any of us has spotted the dormant bat on our way in.  It turns out we were all oblivious to a bat sleeping just a few inches away from our heads.  On our return trip, the guide pointed it out with his flashlight.


I'm sad to say that White Nose syndrome has been detected in Missouri caves this year.  The fungus doesn't kill the bats directly, but apparently irritates the bats so they wake up from hibernation during the winter.  They use up fat reserves trying to remove the fungus or search for insects to eat and end up dying of starvation.   In an effort to slow the disease, the Cave State may end up having to close caves to the public.  I'm not what you'd call a tree-hugger, but I'd hate to lose access to such wonders of God's creation (or have to deal with all the extra bugs that now won't be eaten if the bat population plummets).  So check out the Organization for Bat Conservation and see how you can help.  In the meantime, look for a Missouri Bat on a U-Haul on your next road trip.

5 comments:

Modest Mama said...

This is beyond cool! I loved the image of the poor hotel maid! The photos were amazing. Lucky you!

Missouri Mama said...

The great thing is we get to call this school and log hours!!

Michelle said...

This looks so awesome! What a fun and educational day!

Stefanie said...

I have a strange fondness for bats. lol Wonderful, mosquito eating little guys.

Great trip!

Mary said...

I have no desire to go to a bat cave, but what a bummer that they have been getting sick! Poor things!

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