Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reporting the Local News for Over 100 Years!

Bats: Good Creatures with a Bad Rep


“Rest the Bats” is what Sterlin Snuffer called his Eagle Scout project that was recently on display at the Secaucus Public Library. We perused the bat items on display just before the exhibit was to be dismantled, and learned a lot about our fellow mammal. We learned how beneficial these little hunters are as they gobble up thousands of insect pests (including mosquitoes!) during the only four hours they are awake at night (bats sleep for twenty hours and hunt their prey for four hours!). We’ve noticed bats swoop and dart as they snare insects we can’t even see in the early dusk hours of the evening. What we didn’t know about these voracious eaters is that they also pollinate plants and disperse seeds — good little creatures that have a bad reputation. We asked Sterlin why people are afraid of bats, and his ready answer was “myths.” People associate bats with “Count Dracula” and vampires, but here in Secaucus we only have the Little Brown Bats — “little” in that they are only 2.5 to 4 inches in length, weigh half an ounce, and have a wingspan of 11 inches. Sterlin noted that up to 200 little brown bats would fit in the large bat house he had on display at the library while up to 20 bats could call the smaller houses home. There are three species of bats—vampire, hairy-legged vampire, and white-winged vampire—that drink blood, but only from livestock (cows, cattle, etc.) and only in Central and South America.

Sterlin Snuffer is a senior at Secaucus High School, the son of Janice (Rittberg) and Mike Snuffer. He is a member of Boy Scout Troop 22 that meets at St. Matthew Lutheran Church. One of the requirements for Eagle status is to have earned at least 21 merit badges — Sterlin proudly reports that he has 30! A perennial High Honor Roll student, Sterlin, 17, is interning this school year at Town Hall and the public library, and hopes to get a summer job with the DPW. He chose to do his Eagle Scout project on bats because of his involvement, through scouting, with nature and the environment. He has been working with the town’s Environmental Department and its director, Amanda Nesheiwat, and also with Lynn Kramer from the department. Sterlin and his fellow Troop 22 scouts will have a booth at the town’s seventh annual Green Festival on May 6 at Xchange in the South End. The scouts will have several different size bat houses on display and information about bats will be available at the fair that runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sterlin explained that the bat houses should be placed in full sunlight on a south or east location of a house or tree. The houses are painted a dark color, he said, so they can better absorb heat.

Other than seeing bats flitting about at dusk in various parks, our only prior experience with these little flying mammals was when we were young and our family would spend summers in the Henkel family country house in Pinecliff Lake (West Milford). The house was a big old stone house atop a hill at the intersection of Union Valley Road and Bearfort Lane. It really was the country then (while the house was sold years ago, it still stands, but the area is no longer the country, but now is full of ubiquitous strip malls and housing developments) and wildlife was abundant. My mother, two older brothers and older sister and I would stay in the gigantic beautiful house all summer, and Dad, the former editor of this publication, would drive up on the weekends. Occasionally, a bat or two would find its way into the house, invariably at night when we were all upstairs in our bedrooms, and the three females in the family (including me) would yell, scream, and run for cover (we had heard all those stories of bats flying into your hair!). One time I ran into the upstairs bathroom, closed the door, safe from the marauding bat, only to look up to see the bat had followed me in! My brothers, being macho men, thought nothing of chasing the bat(s) with brooms and paper bags and capturing them and freeing them outside. They never killed the poor things (the bats were probably more frightened than we were!). If Dad was there, he would take over the bat-catching duty, a task he probably performed with his nine or ten brothers when they stayed at the lake house when they were boys. We were totally ignorant of the beneficial role bats played in the ecosystem we all share.

Since Sterlin devoted so much time and energy to his bat project and loved his outdoor excursions in nature as a scout, we assumed he might want to pursue an environmental goal in college. We were surprised to learn that, instead, he wants to enlist in the U.S. Navy where he’d have to commit to a four-year stint. He said he might even want to make a career in the military. Apparently, by earning an Eagle Scout badge he will automatically start his naval career at a higher rank! Whatever path Sterlin Snuffer takes upon graduation, his focus, intelligence, and straight thinking will lead him to success. His project might be called “Rest the Bats,” but pretty soon, Sterlin will be “Up at Bat.”

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