Families see bats fly at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

Saturday, June 16, 2012 | 4:42 p.m. CDT; updated 3:56 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 17, 2012
Roxie Campbell, naturalist, gave a presentation on the nine species of bats that can be found in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and then led a viewing as the bats emerged from the caves. The presentation included an educational game for children, which mimicked bat's echolocation in a tag game.

*An earlier version of this article provided an incorrect reason why tours of the Devil's Icebox Cave closed in July 2010. Tours ceased as a precautionary measure to prevent the spreading of a fungus that causes disease among bats to the cave, though no particular cases of the fungus in the cave were ever reported.

COLUMBIA — When she grows up, 7-year-old Ella Byergo wants to be the state bat specialist.

Ever since the Columbia girl saw the bats at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park while attending a Girl Scouts event about careers for women in wildlife, she has been devouring everything she can find about the furry mammals.

She brings home books on bats from the library and has a "bat binder" where she gathers articles and pictures of her favorite creature.

Her favorite fact is that they're the only mammal that can fly, and her favorite species is the fruit bat.

So far, she said, she has toured four or five caves to see her favorite creature.

After the park's bat program Friday evening, she added Connor's Cave to her ever-growing list.

The program, which allows families to learn more about Missouri's bats, was run by Roxie Campbell, the park naturalist, and several of her assistants.

The evening began outside the park office with a game called "seeing with sound," to help everyone understand how echolocation works. Echolocation is the bat's special ability to see with sound waves. 

After the game, Campbell gave a PowerPoint presentation about bats. She told her audience of 29 children and adults about Missouri's bats and the different species that can be found in the park.

Devil's Icebox Cave has a colony of about 2,000 bats, with six different species, Campbell said. 

She also explained to the group how beneficial bats are, especially in their role in keeping down the nocturnal insect population.

"It's like a free buffet for them," she said.

As the sky turned to dusk, the group trekked up the trail to Devil's Icebox.

Campbell asked everyone to settle down on the platform above the cave, turn off their lights and stay quiet.

As the skies grew darker and the bugs thicker, the bats flashed silently by the observers.

After a few minutes of watching the shadowy creatures eat their "buffet," Campbell allowed everyone to turn on their lights and point them down into Devil's Icebox.

Campbell said she was amazed by the number of bats that were flying and estimated approximately 50 were flying out the caves at one time. 

"It was the best showing at a bat program here that I've seen," she said.

*Campbell led the group through a tour of Connor's Cave. The bats fly between Devil's Icebox Cave and Connor's Cave in the evening. Devil's Icebox Cave has been closed for tours as a precautionary measure since July 2010, when a particular fungus that leads to the potentially fatal white-nosed syndrome in bats was found to be spreading through Missouri.  

For some people, seeing so many bats at once was a new experience.

But for Latricia Vaughn, a Columbia resident, it was nothing new.

She was a tour guide at Boone Cave in Rocheport for three years. The cave was closed after the Flood of 1993.

One of her tasks was to wake up the bats in the morning by turning on the lights. This helped  the bats move to a different cave to protect them from the incoming visitors.

Vaughn was dressed appropriately for the evening, with a bat-themed shirt, earrings and socks. She brought along her husband, Bill Vaughn, and her three grandchildren to the program. Bill Vaughn also sported a bat shirt.

Even though she no longer works with bats, she still likes to read articles and stories about them. 

"They do so much good," she said.

Although the turnout was lower than previous years, Campbell said the program went well and that she had a good group this year. 

She said she hopes the program helps people to realize how bats enrich our lives.

"Many wild animals illustrate that they have abilities we don't," Campbell said. "Bats are foremost in that."

The program will be offered again at 7:15 p.m. Saturday. It will also be offered on Aug. 17 and 18.

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Michael Williams June 16, 2012 | 4:56 p.m.

I have a basketball goal attached directly to the side of my house. There is a gap of ca. 1-1.25 inches between the goal and the siding.

And, for the last 7 years, ca. 6-12 bats have taken up daytime residence behind the goal.

Mosquito population is definitely down, and this is repeated year after year. Wish they could echo-locate ticks.

Only one problem. Why can't bats crap while flying instead of on the roost? The side of the house is a bit unsightly, and there's a spot directly underneath on the driveway that isn't much better.

Everyone else wants the basketball goal DOWN, but I just smile in the absence of mosquitoes. I kinda like that feature and you'd understand my favorable outlook for the bats if you saw me up at 3 am staring at the ceiling trying to spot one lone, damned, humming mosquito in the bedroom and the subsequent utterly despicable violence when I do locate her.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 17, 2012 | 6:13 a.m.

I have a bat house (that I built specifically to attract bats) on the side of my house, and I don't think it has ever had any take up residence.

I am a good 1/4 mile away from the nearest source of permanent water, and I understand this has something to do with it.

I've always thought they were interesting animals.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 17, 2012 | 7:24 a.m.

The are several venues in the United States where it's possible to observe hundreds of thousands of bats as they emerge for nightly feeding. One is Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

Another, and far easier to get to, is Austin, Texas, where an estimated 750 thousand - 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats, mostly pregnant females, migrate north to give birth. When resting, the bats tend to congregate under Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin.

The bats remain in Texas until early fall, when they go back south to Mexico.

The best months to watch the evening show (all those flying bats) are March and April, when the bats fly eastward along the south side of the river. The best place to view them USED to be the Shoreline Bar & Grill, which after two decades of operation closed in February of this year. (BOO!) You could sit either inside or on the terrace* and have your rather expensive meal while watching the show. Because the bats didn't pass directly over the restaurant, there was no concern about bat droppings.

*-You can have evenings in Austin in March when it's not too cool to dine outside. Because the long axis of the building faced south, the terrace absorbed quite a bit of heat on a sunny day.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 17, 2012 | 8:53 a.m.

Mark and the empty bat house.

Sometimes folk wisdom does have a bit of truth to it, and I can't vouch for the following...but here it is anyway.

Find me...or some place with a bat population, collect a small amount of guano, and smear it at the base of your bat house.

Kind of a "Welcome home" scented candle for bats.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 17, 2012 | 12:03 p.m.

I had a close encounter with a bat shortly after moving into our new home in 1980. We believe it came in through the fireplace. We have an area of open (cathedral) ceiling and this where it naturally migrated to. With a long piec of molding I chased it back and forth hoping it would recognize the open door, below. It never did and finally became so worn out it refused to move, hunkered down and just "screamed" at me. No child, imo has ever sounded so pathetic. We finally opened all available doors and windows and went for a lengthy dinner out, hoping it would, with darkness, leave to search for food. No way. We called Conservation Dept. next morning while the little dude was hanging from a beam snoozing peacefully.
Luckily, the Agent was a tall one and was able to reach the bat from our balcony with his heavily gloved hand. He released it safely, outside.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 17, 2012 | 12:14 p.m.

Another note (slightly off subject), with the exceedingly warm winter, shouldn't there be a great influx of insects? I've not witnessed such. I've noted a couple of mosquitoes, but have yet to encounter a house fly, inside or nearby my home. Any comment?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 17, 2012 | 6:58 p.m.

Frank, I have a lot of grapevines, and I've never seen so many Japanese beetles as I have this year. Other then that, I agree - there don't seem to be a lot of common pests like mosquitoes and flies. It hasn't been humid on the average, and I suspect that has something to do with it.


(Report Comment)
frank christian June 17, 2012 | 8:40 p.m.

A bird flew into the carport, today, turned back and fluttered somewhat,'til I could see it caught a winged insect in the air. They are still, it appears, doing their good job.

(Report Comment)

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