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June 24, 2009

The County Press

By PHIL FOLEY Staff Reporter

DRYDEN TWP -- Between countless vampire movies and being a euphemism for being crazy, as in "He's a little batty," it's easy to see why bats don't have the best of reputations.

Dale Smart, an education specialist with the Organization for Bat Conservation (OCB), will be at the Seven Ponds Nature Center at 2 p.m. Saturday to present Bats of the World, a program designed to introduce people to the world's most common mammal.

According to Dawn Vezina, another education specialist with the 15-year-old Bloomfield Hills-based group, because bats tend to be nocturnal and secretive, most people don't realize how common they are or how important a role they play in nature. Worldwide, said Vezina, there are 1,000 bat species. "One in five mammals are bats, yet they're the least known," she said.

Michigan alone has nine species of bat, including the Big Brown Bat -- which will be one of five species Smart will be bringing to Seven Ponds. The Big Brown Bat, said Vezina, feeds heavily on mosquitos, moths and other insects that humans see as pests. She noted that while it's the second largest of the state's nine native bats, the average person's hand could hold five or six of them with their wings folded.

The largest of the five bats Smart plans on bringing to Seven Ponds, the Straw Colored Fruit Bat has a foot-long body and a three-foot wing span.

Like its African neighbor, the Egyptian Fruit Bat, which is also coming to Seven Ponds, is "a cutie," according to Vezina. And like the Malaysian Dog-Faced Fruit Bat, they are important pollinators in tropical countries. Vezina noted that without fruit bats, there would be no bananas, kiwi fruit or avocados.

While fruit bats are "cute" the Jamaican Leaf Nosed Bat, the fifth of the bats joining Smart at Seven Ponds, has a face only its mother, or an OBC member, could love. The Jamaican Leaf Nosed Bat looks like it has a Rhinoceros horn on its nose, said Vezina, who added, "I don't think they're ugly. I like them."

Along with giving people a chance to get up close and personal with these winged creatures of the night, Smart will talk about food chains, sound waves and conservation.

Vezina said that while there are 1,000 species of bat worldwide, half of them are either threatened or endangered.

"They play an extremely important role in the ecosystem," she said. In the tropics, in addition to pollinating flowers, bats play a critical role in dispersing seeds throughout the rain forest. In the Midwest, she said, bats help control insects like mosquitoes, moths and beetles -- which spread diseases and damage crops.

Vezina said bats are divided into two main groups -- mega and micro. The mega bats tend to have dog-like or fox-like faces that most people find "cute," while the micro bats tend to have the alien-like faces that people find not so cute. Either way, said Vezina, "once people see them, it alleviates a lot of fears."

There is a $3 per adult and $1 per child fee for the event, which is free for Seven Ponds members. The center suggests people call (810) 796-3200 to pre-register for the event.

Seven Ponds Nature Center, located at 3854 Crawford Road, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday year round. Crawford Road is located a Mile South of Dryden Road between Calkins Road and Lake George Road and Dryden Road runs between M-24 and M-53.

For the past seven years OBC has called the Cranbrook Institute of Science home. The group works to preserve bats and their habitats through education, collaboration, and research. For more information about OBC, visit either of its web sites.

OBC's presentation at Seven Ponds is partially funded by a grant from Critter Catchers Inc., a company that offers humane bat removal.

Critter Catchers, Inc.
P.O. Box 312, Lake Orion, MI 48361
(248) 432-2712

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