Nestled at the edge of 130 acres of oak woodlands, wetlands and prairies, the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center offers a unique blend of rustic nature and contemporary comforts. The LEED-certified building features beautiful views and an open floor plan with rental and programming space. Live animal displays, including state-endangered Blanding’s turtles, offer vistiors up close interaction with reptiles native to Illinois. Nature programs for all ages, birthday parties and special events provide guests with many educational and social opportunities to connect to our local environment. Visit this premiere environmental discovery center in the Fox Valley today!
Photo Caption: Bats can be divided into two groups, solitary and colonial. In our area, little brown and big brown bats are the colony-forming species that, from time to time, take up residents in attics, barns and other structures. (Photo credit: Tim Krynak/USFWS)
Keeping bats at bay
April 21, 2017
This time of year, nature folk are abuzz (or aTwitter, if technologically inclined) about the wonderful diversity of birds that have returned for the summer breeding season. Red-winged blackbirds-the males, that is-and robins (including those that never really left) were among the first, followed shortly after by grackles, tree swallows, chipping sparrows and yes, those fascinating but vexing devils the cowbirds.
But there are some other creatures that are on the move too. This group of animals has its fans, but it also has its detractors-those furry flyers, the bats.
In our area, we have several species that can be divided into two different groups based on behavior: solitary bats and colonial bats.
Solitary bats, as their name indicates, roost and breed singly in trees along the edge of woodlands. Colonial bats, by contrast, gather in large groups. In our area, we have little brown bats, Myotis lucifugus, and big brown bats, Eptesicus fuscus. (For bat-o-phobes, ust so you don’t have nightmares, big brown bats aren’t really that much bigger than little browns; average wingspan is about 12 in.)
The colonial species are the ones most likely to be found near humans, thanks to the structures we create.House attics, barns and bridges are a few examples of where these bats tend to congregate, to mixed reactions from their human neighbors.
Some people welcome bats and put up bat houses to encourage the critters. (Although…if you’re hoping bats will eat all your mosquitoes, you may end up disappointed. They’re tiny morsels compared to the meaty, big-game insects like moths and beetles. When you’re hungry, which would you prefer, a few grains of rice or a thick slab of meat? Bats are the same way.)
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who’d prefer that bats stay the heck away. Interestingly, according to my wholly unscientific research, it seems that these are the folks who end up with bat colonies in their attics and behind their shutters.
If you or someone you know falls into this latter class, don’t despair. Bat-friendly organizations offer lots of tips for discouraging bats without harming them in the process. Here, for example, are a few tips from our new friends at Texas-based Bat World Sanctuary Inc.:
Why do bats choose to live in human structures?
The increase of human expansion has resulted in a loss of habitat for colonial bats, forcing them to look for alternative roosts to live in and raise their young. Roof voids, attics, vacant buildings and barns all provide bats with warm, safe places to hide and live.
How do I keep a bat from roosting under the overhang of my porch?
Occasionally, a single bat or two will take up temporary residence under the eave of a porch. These bats simply are in need of a short-term roost. If left alone, the bat will probably leave on its own when the weather turns cooler. However, some people have found success in getting a bat to leave by suspending aluminum foil or helium-filled Mylar balloons close to the roosting spot (note, the balloons need to sway to deter the bats). These items may interfere with a bats echolocation abilities and help to dissuade it from roosting in that location.
How do I get bats out of my building? What does and doesn’t work.
Repellent devices are not effective. One Chicago manufacturer was fined $45,000 by the EPA for misleading claims about an ultrasonic device. In fact, when ultrasonic devices were tested by bat experts some of them actually attracted bats! Moth balls are not effective because they evaporate quickly and require frequent replacement. Additionally, chemical toxicants should never be used to solve bat problems. It is a violation of federal law to use a chemical in any way other than for what it is strictly intended, and currently, there are no poisons or chemicals licensed for use against bats. The illegal poisoning of bats may create health hazards and liabilities for property owners. Poisoned bats will die inside the walls and ceiling, creating bacteria and odor, and dying bats may fall to the ground both inside and outside the property where they are more likely to come into contact with children and pets.
Traps are not recommended and have actually been known to drive bats to the inside of a structure. Trapping is also extremely inhumane. They are positioned to block the exit of the roost and can quickly fill with bats as they emerge to forage for insects at night. Once trapped, the bats are unable to escape and those that fell in first become crushed as others fall on top of them. The filled trap then blocks the exit for the bats remaining in the roost, forcing them to search for another way out. These bats are likely to end up inside a business or residence, greatly increasing the chance for human contact.
The only safe, humane way to evict bats from a building is by exclusion, a method of using plastic mesh to create one-way valves that allow bats to leave the roost but then prevents them from re-entering. Do-it-yourself exclusion methods as well as a list of professional bat excluders can be found at Bat World’s web site, listed below.
When should an exclusion be done?
Bats should only be evicted when no dependent young are present, which means never during the months of May through mid-September. Many states specifically prohibit excluding bats when they are raising their young. Before considering an exclusion be sure to check with your state wildlife agency to make sure you know what laws must be followed, as well as to get a specific idea of when it is safe to exclude bats in your area, which is generally early autumn. If you exclude during the wintertime and you discover hibernating bats, wait until spring and when night flying insects are present as the bats will be waking up and be able to fly out.
As for us folks in Illinois-those of us who don’t want bats in our belfries, or attics, now is the time to check your roof and eaves for soundness. Repairs now will save you from having to exclude bats later on in the year.
Many thanks to Amanda Lollar, founder and president for allowing us to reprint these tips. For more info, be sure to check out Bat World’s web site, https://batworld.org.
Pam Otto is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a facility of the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-639-7960 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good Natured, Mammal
Photo Caption: Our local species of mole, the eastern or common mole, is also known as Scalopus aquaticus, which would indicate an association with water. Alas, this species is the least aquatic of the North American moles, although it does a fairly good job of “swimming” through soil in search of invertebrates on which to feed. (Photo credit: Gary Stolz/USFWS)
A deeper look at animal, plant names
April 14, 2017
So last week we dipped a pinky toe into the pool that is scientific binomials-that is, the Latin (or Greek, or other languages, as the case may be) names given to plants and animals. The great advantage of these designations is that they are universal-Mephitis mephitis, or Stinky stinky in Latin, is the scientific name for the striped skunk, and it means the same thing whether you’re a skunk fancier in the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates…you get the picture.
A second advantage of this seemingly cumbersome nomenclature is that it is often descriptive. It may express an obvious quality of the organism, as in the case of Stinky stinky, or it may hint at a lesser known trait. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy (he named more than 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants) for example gave milkweed the genus name Asclepias, after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Milkweeds for centuries were used medicinally to treat a diversity of ailments, including warts, ringworm, typhus, dysentery and asthma.
All is well and good when scientific names provide accurate descriptions of the plants and animals to which they are assigned. But, every once in a while, the nomenclature train derails, and runs wildly off the tracks.
That’s where this admitted Word Geek gets really excited.
Take, for instance, the genus name for the ragweeds, those wind-pollinated plants that trigger watery, itchy eyes and noses for millions of allergy sufferers. Linnaeus chose the name Ambrosia, as in food of the gods, for this group that contains about 50 species. It’s thought that he based his choice not so much on a sweet nectar of the gods, or a delicious fruit salad, but rather on the fact that ancient herbalists used the plant he named A. maritima to treat upset stomachs.
Another example is Linnaeus’s choice of names for the eastern or common mole. Someone unfamiliar with Scalopus aquaticus might read that name and assume that the animal is the Michael Phelps of mammaldom. But you know what they say about the word assume…
The day Linnaeus named the eastern mole, he had been presented with a specimen that had been found dead in a body of water. He inferred that the animal must have an association with H2O, and deemed aquaticus an appropriate species name. Oops! Eastern moles are the least aquatic of any North American mole species.
The genus name, however, is a little more on target. Linnaeus observed that the mole’s front feet were large and shovel-shaped; he then took the Greek words for digging and foot and put them together to create Scalopus.
The scientific name for our local fox squirrels presents another adventure in misnaming. Sciurus niger translates to Squirrel black. The only problem is that fox squirrels in our area are orange and brown-so much so that many people refer to them by the common name red squirrel. (That in itself is a problem because true American red squirrels are a smaller species with a preference for eating pine nuts. Their scientific name is Tamiasciurus hudsonicus and they are not known to inhabit this area.)
At any rate, fox squirrels came to be named Squirrel black because the first specimens collected had black fur. This tendency toward dark pigmentation occurs in fox squirrel populations in the southern and eastern states. (Interestingly, the black squirrels that pop up in our area from time to time are not Sciurus niger, but rather Sciurus carolinensis, the gray squirrel.)
Who would have thought that a long-standing name like dinosaur would have issues? Well, sure enough, that name is based on inferences and half truths.
Perhaps you’ve heard that the literal translation of dinosaur is terrible lizard. That in itself is true, but…the name doesn’t quite mean what you think. Dino comes from the Greek deinos, which means terrible, but also wondrous and great, while saurus which means lizard.
The responsibility for this misnomer can be traced to Sir Richard Owen, a controversial British naturalist who coined the term in 1842. In awe of the extremely large fossils being discovered at the time in southern England, he felt the group deserved the lofty name Dinosauria. But as it turns out many dinosaurs were actually quite small. Perhaps most important, none were lizards.
The list could go on and on. Rattus norvegicus, the Norway rat, actually originated in China. Apodidae, which means “without feet” is the family name for the group of birds known as swifts. The birds really do have feet; however, their leg muscles are weak and not well suited for perching. The genus name Alligator is an anglicized form of the Spanish el lagarto, or the lizard. But guess what? Alligators belong to the order Crocodilia, whereas lizards fall into the order Squamata, the “scaly ones.”
Going back to the phrase that started this whole train of thought, “What’s in a name?” the answer is a lot more complex than Juliet Capulet would lead us to believe. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” she said. She clearly overlooked rose of Sharon, a member of the hibiscus family that has little to no scent.
We’ll let the Word Geekiness stop here, for now. But beware, it may pop up again soon. Like next week, when we take a look at how to handle bats that have taken up residents inside buildings. Species in our area include Myotis lucifugus, the little brown bat, whose scientific name translates to Mouse that shuns daylight. It’s a great name, except that bats are not mice, or even rodents…
Pam Otto is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a facility of the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-513-4346 or email@example.com.
Good Natured, Mammal, Plant