By Edna Duffy
On the second Wednesday of July, a mere 90 minutes before sunset, the town’s second Green Summer Speaker Series presentation was held behind the Secaucus Recreation Center in the Sadhu Vaswani Meditation Garden. Lynn Kramer, the Clean Up Coordinator in the town’s Environmental Department, welcomed two dozen attendees and discussed the “Pollinator Series” program before enthusiastically introducing Joseph D’Angeli, “New Jersey’s own Bat Man.” Mr. D’Angeli, the curator/lecturor of The Wildlife Conservation and Education Center, gave an informative presentation about bats.
Wearing a T-shirt with a bat outline resembling a patriotic American flag, Joe opened the session by dispelling many of the myths about bats. The most common myth is that bats make nests in people’s hair. He also disclosed that many people fear that bats have rabies but mentioned that while bats can get rabies like other mammals, the strain does not cause them to become aggressive. He said that people are far more likely to catch rabies from raccoons, skunks, foxes, dogs and cats as those mammals, once rabid, have a higher rate of aggressive behavior and will attack. An audience member then asked about vampire bats and the participants learned there are three species of bats that subsist on blood as it is the only thing they can digest. These bats are extremely small and usually prey upon livestock at night. Secaucus residents need not worry as there are no vampire bats in North America.
There are approximately 1,300+ species of bats in the world and they are broken into two separate groups—Microchiroptera species locate food using echo location and the Megachiroptera species that include the larger fruit-eating bats. Joe disclosed there are fossils of bats that have been found that are 65 million years old and that fossils of today’s bats remain virtually unchanged.
There are nine species of bats in New Jersey and all are insectivores and eat mosquitoes. Although our bats are not pollinators, there are bats in the North American Southwest that are key pollinators. Bats in the desert help pollinate the saguaro cactus as well as mescal plants used to make tequila. The African baobab tree, also known as the tree of life, is pollinated by bats.
The bone structure in their wings is similar to the human hand with a thumb and finger-like projections and they are more closely related to monkeys than rodents. Bats like to be warm and will wrap their wings around their body to retain heat. They also sleep in large colonies, another way to keep warm. Bats give birth to only one pup a year.
During Joe’s presentation, he showed us an echo locator instrument that he uses to track bat activity. It can detect and display the clicking sound made by a bat’s sonar that is above the human hearing range. That sound changes when the bat approaches its target and disappears once the prey is caught.
White-nose syndrome is a disease that has been recorded in 31 states. The first occurrence of the disease can be traced to a cave in Schoharie County, New York, that was contaminated by a traveler who had been in Europe and did not follow proper safety protocol by disinfecting his gear and clothing. Photos obtained in February 2006 show the first signs of the fungus on hibernating bats. This contagious disease has been spreading slowly across the United States and has killed millions of bats during the last 10 years. In fact, up to 98 percent of the hibernating bat species were lost at the Hibernian Mine in Rockaway, New Jersey. The disease does not attack bats that migrate, only those that hibernate. Joe said it could take 20 years or more for the bat population to rebound to former levels.
Bats feed at night and seek shelter during the day to sleep. Bats can be found in caves, in the attics of buildings, under shingles or the eaves of houses, beneath tree bark and in bat houses. When Joe showed a multi-level bat house that can be purchased and installed to provide shelter for bats, Lynn mentioned an Eagle Scout project undertaken by Sterlin Snuffer of Boy Scout Troop 22 (see Home News article published on May 4). Bat houses are available to anyone who would like to add one to their property in Secaucus. They are available on a first-come basis through the Environmental Department at (201) 864-7336.
While the mosquitos were nibbling on the participants as the skies darkened, Joe, his assistant and a few audience members kept their eyes skyward during the presentation hoping to catch a sighting of a bat. We discussed how common they were during our childhoods and how they have disappeared now. Unfortunately, we did not see any bats before the program ended.
A large cage sat covered in the middle of the table during the presentation. As the session neared the end, an assistant removed the cover and Joe introduced Caesar and Luna, father and son straw-colored fruit bats, also known as flying foxes, that are used in their educational programs. Audience members were encouraged to approach the cage for closer looks and to feed them fruit from the end of a skewer. These fruit bats are pollinators in their native Africa.
The Wildlife Conservation and Education Center is in the process of moving to a new facility at 303 Midland Avenue in Garfield and will be open shortly. They are open to the public and have education programs both on and offsite. They have live bats, exotic animals and native species and are available for birthday parties. Information about the Center and the work they do can be obtained at thebatcave.org, thewildlifecenter.net and njbatman.com. or (201) 257-2231.