By ALICIA LEONARD
Drivers traveling through the U.S. 331 overpass in DeFuniak Springs may have thought the group of parents and kids were going batty, and they would be right. The group was having lots of fun celebrating the International Year of the Bat with a bat count.
The often misaligned mammals likes to hang out inside the bridge, in the small sections where the bridge is connected and not underneath as many would assume. One tell-tell sign is the strong stench of guano and other bodily excrement one smells from the top of the bridge, when standing at one of these “connecting” points, or leaning over the concrete rails slightly.
Nonie Maines of Nonie’s Ark Animal Encounters led the group of curious kids and parents. Maines discovered her love for learning about the bats back in college when she worked with fruit bats at the Lubee Bat Conservancy and for the last five years she has also been doing volunteer work for the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network (www.sbdn.org) and the Mississippi Bat Working Group.
Maines explained to the group that here, in the South, bats don’t migrate and due to the lack of caves in the area, bats found man-made structures that would support their rest and sleep periods. This overpass should contain thousands of the little flying mammals, according to Maines.
One certain sign is the presence of guano, or bat feces that can be found at the bottom or on the walls of a structure being used for a habitat.
Maines’ also dispelled some beliefs about the small creatures. “They won’t attack you. They’re not attack animals and the stories of bats flying at people’s heads are just them trying to catch bugs that gather due to the fact the bugs are drawn by our breath and sweat. Bats aren’t going to dive bomb or come after anyone. They are really amazing little creatures and they do so much for us all, especially our safety and food supply.”
Maines explained that bats prefer those bugs which prefer to bite us, like mosquitoes, or others that ruin crops. “Bats are the farmer’s friend and keep farmers from having to spray poison on their gardens, which is better for everyone.”
Maines also demonstrated how bats find their food, “They use echo-location by bouncing sound off their prey. The term blind as a bat isn’t really true. They have small eyes, but they work well, but hunting at night is a little harder and bats have made up for that by using sound.”
Maines provided an educational and entertaining program for the families and from the looks on the children’s faces, they enjoyed learning as much as Maines enjoys teaching kids about the big, wild and wonderful world around us.
To find out more about Maines and her animal encounters go to www.noniesark.com and look for Nonie’s Ark on Facebook as well. To find out more about bats and the International Year of the Bat, which was one reason for the gathering, go to the web site dedicated to the “incredibly fascinating, delightfully likeable masters of our night skies,” at www.yearofthebat.org.