It’s early January. People have probably had enough of reindeer on the roof and crickets on the hearth.
Scott Jervas hopes people begin the new year with Honduran White Bats, Gray-headed Flying Fox Bats and Gambian Epauletted Fruit Bats. They’re all part of the plan at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass., which will open its new exhibit, “Bats: Creatures of the Night,” on Saturday, Jan. 19.
Bat time will be available through May 12.
Jervas is a fan of the misunderstood nocturnal mammals. The museum’s aquarium manager, he also knows bats. He said the gentle animals play an important role in the environment, and believes they deserve a little more respect from people who often scream and then sprint during close encounters. Jervas said bunches of other things about bats and the Berkshire show, in a high-flying question and answer session.
‘Bats: Creatures of the Night’
WHERE: Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Jan. 19-May 12
HOW MUCH: $13 for adults, $6 for children
MORE INFO: www.berkshiremuseum.org
Q: What are bats’ status in the Northeast these days?
A: Not good. They found white-nose syndrome in New York in the winter of 2006-07. I think it was in Howes Cave, actually. Later photographs showed . . . they went back and looked at photos taken the same winter . . . and they saw it was also in other caves that year. They don’t know when it actually hit, but that was the first year they ever saw it.
Q: What does white-nose syndrome do to these guys?
A: I’m not even sure they completely understand it yet. It’s a fungus, I don’t know if they’re even sure that it’s a fungus that’s killing them or a symptom, something that happens later. They see it on their noses, that’s the most obvious thing, it’s white and kind of stringy. They see it on their wings, and it actually erodes their wings. It seems to show that it leads to them dehydrating. They get thirsty . . . they will leave their hibernaculum and you’ll see bats flying around in the middle of winter. You think about how tiny they are. If they’re healthy, they can just barely make it through the winter. Any kind of stress will finish them off. When they fly in winter, they use up more energy and they just can’t survive.
I think we’ve lost 80 to 90 percent of some populations. When they mention that stat, they’re talking about caves — 80 to 90 percent of a population in a cave has been wiped out by this. They’ve found it in Europe. Bats are infected, but it doesn’t kill them. It seems like they’ve evolved with it. Perhaps it was introduced in Europe and maybe our bats can’t handle it. Perhaps our bats, there will be some that have an immunity, they won’t all be wiped out and the populations will grow again, but it will take a long, long time. They’ll have one pup a year, most of them.
Q: Is there anything people can do to help out bats?
A: Bat houses, making those little bat houses is a good thing. They enter through the bottoms. Not disturbing them is probably the only other thing I know. Stay out of caves where bats are, or barns — sometimes they’re in barns. Don’t disturb them.
Q: What will people see and learn in the exhibit?
A: There are a lot of interactives. You can your head into a pair of “bat ears” and see how they hear. There are interactives where you can do echo location. They’ll go through all the different species of bats. There are two basic groups — there are the ones we have here, which are the small insectivores, and then in tropic regions they have the larger fruit bats. A lot of them eat fruit.
Q: Do you think bats still have that creepy Halloween- and Dracula-inspired reputation — sinister creatures?
A: Absolutely. Definitely, they can be a little unsettling if you come across one when you don’t expect it.
Hopefully, after a show like this, they’ll appreciate them a little more for what they do. Some are pollinators, they spread seeds and of course, they eat a lot of flying insects, up to 600 per hour. I don’t even know how they could do that. With all the mosquito-borne illnesses, that’s crucial. It’s a little scary to what were heading for, especially with climate change. You have mosquito-borne ailments like yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria. They’re all migrating away from the equators as part of the Earth’s warming. Different areas can accommodate those diseases. Bats are a big controller, and we’re losing them.
Q: Do you have a favorite species of bat?
A: Yeah. There are some bats who will live together. Little white guys, they’re really cute. They’re white and puffy, their skin is yellow, they live together under leaves, like banana leaves — they’re tropical bats, Honduran white bats. They’ll nibble at the ribs of a leaf so it collapses around them and that’s where they sleep. There will be like five or six of them under there.
Q: Any other unusual ones you like?
A: There are bats that eat fish, fish-eating bats. They’ll take them on the wing, pretty amazing. And, of course, the vampire bat. They really drink blood, it’s mostly cattle, probably pretty unusual that a person is attacked — it’s almost always cattle. I don’t even think they land on them, they crawl across the ground and up their legs, make a little slit and lap up the blood. They’re in the tropics, even in Mexico you can pick them up. There are flying foxes, one of the larger fruit bats. You’d be startled at how big they are, their wings are probably three feet across, maybe more. It kind of surprises me they can even fly.