Miniature mammals focus of Nature Center programs
They’re “Going Batty” at the Neal Taylor Nature Center at Cachuma Lake.
And that’s a good thing.
Live programs and exhibits are being offered this month to watch local bats — close to 300 – come to feed at two bat boxes, which are artificial roosts designed to encourage bats into areas where there are few roosting sites.
Led by Nature Center hosts, “Going Batty” presentations take place at 7:45 p.m. Saturday, 7:35 p.m. Aug. 20 and 7:25 p.m. Aug. 27 at the center, 2265 State Route 154.
Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
Paul Collins, a biologist with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, has completed a two-year research project on the bats, which he has identified as Myotis Californicus Bats, which are considered micro bats.
His research reveals the following information:
— Their body length is from 1½ to 2 inches, and they weigh less than an ounce, but their wingspan is from 6 to 9 inches, tip to tip. The females are slightly larger than the males.
— Bats are mammals and birth one pup a year, usually in May or June. Pups feed on mother’s milk for several weeks.
— Bats stay in the canopy of trees eating mosquitoes and other insects and moths. They must eat about one-third to one-half their weight, and they can live from 20 to 30 years.
— For their sense of hearing, bats rely on an echo of sound transmitted back to them called echolocation. This is a perceptual system where ultrasonic sounds are emitted by the bat specifically to produce echoes. The delay of the returning echoes gives the bat the ability to estimate the range of their prey. Microbats use echolocation for navigation and finding prey.
— Small, mouse-eared bats have small feet, and their fur is pale brown, sometimes with a yellow cast.
— Bats are found in caves, mines, rocky hillsides and under tree bark and shrubs from British Columbia and through the West Coast of the U.S., Mexico and Guatemala. They may migrate in winter and roost alone or in small groups in warmer months.
“There are two bat boxes at the Nature Center,” said Julie Anne McDonald, executive director. “The first was designed, built and erected in October 2013 by Michael Marlow, a volunteer. It is suspended between two poles 16 feet off the ground. It is located behind the garage of the Nature Center in the native garden.
“Mr. Marlow built a second bat ‘condo’ five years later to accommodate the expanding bat population. Guano under the bat boxes accumulate over time, and it is important to not go near the guano.”
Two Nature Center volunteers counted 272 bats flying out of the box at dusk on Sept. 28, 2015, and 238 on May 10, 2016. The bat population since then has continued to expand.
“Neal Taylor Nature Center is located within Cachuma Recreational Area in a picturesque old ranch house,” said Ms. McDonald. “Developed and operated by a corps of committed volunteers, it offers exhibits on the local valley and mountain environment for all ages, emphasizing hands-on exhibits for children.”