Terry WiseRifle, CO Colorado

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August 29, 2012
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Proud to be certifiably batty or just wild about bats

Labor Day weekend is here and I want to write about a hidden treasure at Rifle Falls State Park - bats.Over the past few summers as the park naturalist, I have become a bat enthusiast and have developed my educational bat program for the park as another part of my "Livin' the Dream." From "Bats of Colorado: Shadows of the Night," Colorado Division of Wildlife:"People all over the world have been awed, fascinated, amazed or terrified by bats. These night-flying mammals evoke strongly missed emotions, depending on cultural traditions and degree of familiarity. ... Bats seem to have been given an undeservedly bad reputation. In truth, bats are retiring, intelligent animals, important to ecosystem function and of considerable benefit to people. They are not reservoirs of rabies; they do not attack people and become entangled in their hair. They are not blind, filthy vermin, and the true vampires - just three of some 900 species of bats - rarely feed on human blood."Bats are valuable to commerce, science, agriculture and natural ecosystems. In North America, they are the principal predators on night-flying insects, consuming thousands of tons annually. Bat guano is an important fertilizer in many parts of the world, and bats contribute to medical research. Even the neighborhood supermarket would not be the same without bats, which pollinate flowers and disperse seeds of many popular tropical fruits."Myths and misconceptions aside, bats are astonishing animals. They are the only true flying mammals. ... Bats are capable of powered flight. And they are remarkably adept at it, surpassing in many ways even the considerable skills of birds. A bat flying at 40 miles per hour can make a right-angle turn in little more than the length of its body."We have documented three species of bats at Rifle Falls. We have the little brown, hoary and Townsend big-eared bats. My favorite critter can eat 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. Yum yum! They are great "insect repellents." We avoid those annoying mosquito bites by having bats hang around at Rifle Falls. They are really doing all of us a great favor by attending our outdoor campfire and acting as our personal pesky-bug bouncer. There is a possibility of other bat species in and around Rifle Falls: big browns, silver-haired, spotted, and canyon bats. Rifle Falls is also likely to have several myotis, or mouse-eared, bats, such as long-eared, fringed, California and Western small-footed.Location is everything to our bats, and Rifle Falls is the perfect place for them. We all need plenty of space, a great place to live, water and a source of food. Rifle Falls sure fits the bill. Bats are wild creatures. If you find a bat on the ground, you should call Colorado Parks and Wildlife. A bat on the ground can mean it is sick or injured. Bats can be a reservoir for rabies. However, the chances of getting rabies from a bat are extremely low, particularly if we do not handle them. Wildlife officers use protective gloves to pick up an injured bat. Should you be interested, I decided to have one last "Wild About Bats" educational program at 7:50 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2. There is no guarantee we will have bats to observe munching on their supper above Rifle Falls, since they are wild creatures. They may have decided the nights are cooler, and it was time to start migrating south. Some information for this column was obtained from Dan Neubaum, wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.Rifle Gap, Rifle Falls and Harvey Gap are managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, created with the merger of Colorado State Parks and Division of Wildlife. The agency manages 42 state parks, all of Colorado's wildlife, more than 300 state wildlife areas and a host of recreational programs. For more, go online to www.parks.state.co.us and http://wildlife.state.co.us.Terry Wise is the summer season park naturalist and volunteer coordinator for the Rifle Gap State Park Complex. Reach her at 625-1607.

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The Post Independent Updated Aug 29, 2012 06:45PM Published Aug 29, 2012 06:43PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.