My favorite spot is on the top of the hill at Bay Street and Ocean Way. I stood there watching the sun dance across the silvery blue water, thinking how the colorful umbrellas looked like giant blooming flowers rising up out of the sand, when suddenly everything changed. Something hit me from behind. Instead of looking at the ocean, I was on my back staring up at my feet. 

Head down and daydreaming, Richard accidentally ran into me. Rusty, following closely behind, tried to pull up but couldn’t. Unbalanced he fell forward right into Richard. We all went tumbling down the hill, surfboards and all.

When we stopped I found my foot in Rusty’s belly, my wing in Richard’s eye.  Richard’s foot was smashing Rusty’s face and somehow Rusty’s wing had found its way into my mouth.

As people rushed to our aid we quickly scrambled to our webbed feet laughing. We bowed deeply from the waist shouting “Ta da!” and grabbed our boards. Quickly we headed for the water trying our best to pretend our embarrassing tumbling act had all been planned.

The three of us spent most of the morning building a bat house. Richard and Rusty were reluctant at first. They weren’t crazy about bats. To them bats were scary, dangerous creatures that flew through the night skies intent on neck biting and flying into people’s hair. It took a lot of work to convince them to help.

 The bat house idea came to me after reading an article about the U.S. Forest Service closing thousands of caves and former mines in the national forests of 33 states. They were trying to stop a bat killing fungus called the “White-Nose Syndrome”

This White-Nose Syndrome fungus makes the muzzles, wings and ears of infected bats look white. The cause is poorly understood and something of a mystery. It is spreading rapidly and has already killed at least 500,000 bats.

There are many theories on the cause of White-Nose Syndrome; they all seem to come back to climate change, pesticide use or other environmental toxins.  There is fear it may wipe out the endangered Indiana, Virginia and Ozark big-eared and gray bats.

Earlier I read that 40 percent of all the bats in the U.S. and Canada are endangered or close to being added to the list due to habitat loss and pesticide use. The idea of a new, unknown threat really concerned me. I decided to arm myself with the real facts about bats and lead a crusade to change the way my brothers and others felt about them. I was going to prove that bats did not deserve their bad boy reputations.

Bats are probably the least understood animals in the world. We know so little about them. They are portrayed as sinister predators but in reality they are softly furred, shy, gentle creatures. They are also the only mammals that can fly.

To enlist Richard for my project I emphasized the major role bats play in our ecosystem. Since he was the one who educated Rusty and me on the importance of bees as pollinators, I was sure once he knew bats were also important pollinators his feeling toward them would change immediately.  Thankfully, I was right. When I told him bats pollinate bananas, avocados, mangoes, dates, figs and his favorite, cashews, he was in.

Rusty despises mosquitoes so I informed him that the majority of bats are insect eaters who work diligently at keeping the insect populations down. That got his attention. His eyes grew wide when I told him that one tiny brown bat could eat 600 mosquitoes in one hour. When I told him about the 20 million bats from Bracken Cave, Texas that gobble up more than 200 tons of insects in just one summer night, he was convinced and ready to help. 

I thought, just to seal the deal, and in case they needed a little more convincing I should tell them about the fruit and nectar eating bats in the tropics. I told them those bats hold down two important jobs. Not only do they pollinate, they also are responsible for spreading seeds. The seeds they drop account for 95 percent of forest re-growth on cleared land. That makes them absolutely vital to the survival of the rain forests.

Rusty was still worried about vampire bats, or “little Draculas” as he called them. I told him they really do exist but they make up a very small fraction of the bat species. He took off his garlic necklace and felt a little more secure when I told him they are only found in Latin America and that they rarely feed on human blood.

With my brothers help, the bat house turned out great. Maybe it will help our local bats. We are looking for tenants and hoping that “if you build it they will come” applies.

Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at phyllis@phyllischavez.com.

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