Students hear lecturer go to bat for 'much misunderstood' creature

June 07, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Big, brown Woody and silver-haired Slick hung from the sides of their glass cages, oblivious to the interest they were generating in the library at William Winchester Elementary yesterday.

The 40 second-grade students easily identified their guests as bats, and they soon learned that the key to further identification lay in the color of the creatures' coats.

"There are 950 different species of bats," student Matthew Addicks said. But he noted that students who had been studying the animals for a month couldn't recognize them all.

Even Bill Kulp, a member of Bat Conservation International and the American Bat Conservation Society who was addressing the students, might misidentify one occasionally.

Although Mr. Kulp asked the children not to touch the bats, he did give them close-up views of the "much misunderstood" animals.

Resting on cloths in Mr. Kulp's hands, Woody and Slick displayed their delicate fingers, thumbs, feet and 10-inch wingspans for the children.

Nearly every hand in the room went up, when Mr. Kulp asked how many children had ever seen a bat.

Shalaya Saunders was the only one to raise her hand again when Mr. Kulp asked how many children were afraid of bats.

"She is probably the only honest one in the room," said Jackie Callis, school media specialist.

Mr. Kulp assured the children that any fears were unfounded. When bats abound, fewer bugs are around, he said.

"They eat many of the insects which would fly around and bite you," he said.

Heather Rebert said she often sees bats around her porch light at night. "They are trying to catch bugs," she said.

Mr. Kulp, a Union Bridge resident, said he has started the bat program in schools to help dispel misconceptions about one of nature's most beneficial animals and the only true flying mammal.

"You are more likely to be hit by lightning at a church picnic than bitten by a bat," Mr. Kulp said.

The animals groom themselves in much the same way as cats, he said. They usually are free of parasites.

"They are so clean they sparkle," said student Chris Honeman upon inspecting Woody.

Mr. Kulp fed Woody mealworms and said, "You can hear him chomping down."

"Look, he is puckering his lips and nibbling," said Jennifer Matthews.

Slick munched instead of nibbled and was a "lot slower eater," said Kristin Green.

Slick apparently doesn't like to show off. He squirmed as Mr. Kulp gently stretched his wing to its 5-inch width.

"Did you find the bats in a cave?" asked Chris Laatsch.

"No, these guys were rescued from people's houses," Mr. Kulp said.

Woody, fully recovered from a wood stove injury, may be Mr. Kulp's friend for life.

"Once you start to feed them, it is almost impossible to let them go," he said. "They have tremendous homing instincts and come right back."

Slick is banded on his left front leg to help researchers learn where bats go and how long they live, Mr. Kulp said. The creatures can live up to 15 years.

"Anybody have a bat house?" Mr. Kulp asked. "If you get one in there, give me a call. I would love to see it."

Researchers have not yet discovered what type of houses bats prefer and are experimenting with sizes, Mr. Kulp said.

"As soon as we know, we will build a ton," he said.

Keeping a bat without a license is illegal, he told the children.

"If you see one on the ground, don't touch it," he said. "Call somebody and have it removed. You can call me."

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