Perlmeter Illuminates Denizens of the Dark

November 19, 1999

Pity the poor bat, the Rodney Dangerfield of the animal world just “ain’t gob no respec’ ”. But Stuart Perlmeter easily dispelled that attitude with a fascinating view of the ubiquitous bat.

There are 1000 species of the order Chiroptera, constituting about one quarter of all the animal species on earth — and they inhabit every continent except the Arctic and Antarctic! The highest concentration of any animal occurs in the Bracken Cave of Texas, where bats number about 20 million (and the accommodations are “hanging room” only, of course)! There are about 15 species of bats in Oregon, 11 of these in the Willamette Valley. Flights of about a thousand bats can be observed in early summer in the vicinity of the Cuthbert Amphitheater in Eugene’s Alton Baker Park.

Opposite to the western defamatory view of bats, in the Far East the bat is considered to be a symbol of good luck and appears as such in their art work. Indeed, the bat’s contributions to mankind are manifold: the insect eaters consume 1½ times their body weight on each foray (which may be as far as 50 miles); the nectar eaters spread pollen; the fruit eaters spread seed (that otherwise will not germinate) via their digestive system; tons of bat guano are sold as fertilizer; and the system of echolocation (by which bats navigate and track their prey at night) was first discovered in bats and pointed the way to the creation of sonar and radar. Stuart even told us that the small (1½ oz.) vampire bat can make a nice pet — provided you keep it appropriately fed!

There being 1000 species of bats, the wide diversity in size, habits and countenance is not surprising. Their size varies from that of the fruit bats with 5 to 6 ft. wingspan, to the thumb sized Bumble Bee bat that is the smallest animal in the world (not the Pygmy shrew, as is commonly believed). There is even a fish-eating bat that can dive in the water and swim! And there are indeed some very ugly bats, but the little (live) Western Long Ear bat that Stuart showed us at the end of his talk was very simpatico.

Perhaps this proper appreciation of bats holds a moral that can apply to human relations — “. . . but let us judge not, that we be not judged” (Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address, 1865).

Bep Fontana

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