Leslie Sturges is the Founder and President of The Save Lucy Campaign.
Beauty in the Dark
As visual animals, we come pretty well hard wired to appreciate beauty. We are drawn to the colorful, the big-eyed, the cute, and the beautiful. We can see the brightly colored antics of birds and butterflies. Even in photos and film, we can look into the golden eyes of tigers and wolves and feel we understand the being that looks back. We empathize with the big sad eyes of sea turtles and adore the charms of the gentle, furry black and white pandas. We see these others, and therefore, in a sense, we feel we know them, and we care what happens to them.
But what of the things we don’t see or don’t know how to see? We tend to discount, misunderstand, or even fear the things we can’t see, but while the creatures of the night inhabit a darker world, they are no less beautiful.
As the sun drops below the horizon and sunset colors fade to blues and grays and we wander inside to our well-lit homes, an amazing dance starts. Outside, the crows settle into rookeries and start to mumble to each other, chimney swifts gather and circle and dive into their colonial roosts, and robins and doves settle onto nests, or later in summer, congregate in abundance in shelterwoods. The day flyers settle down, and as they do the moths wake up. When the dusky, nocturnal cousins of butterflies flutter out into the open, they are swiftly followed by the russet-red silhouettes of red bats, which fly sweeping patterns in the last light of day. In the woodland clearings and along tree lines, tiny, fluttering tri-colored bats hug the darker shadows under the tree canopy chasing small woodland insects. As nocturnal beetles appear and bumble about the darkening sky, big brown bats hawk in open corridors and over meadows.
Just at full dark, as the Canada geese pass overhead, the myotis contingent comes out to hunt over meadows and open water, where they feast on small insects of all types. These tiny hunters include little brown bats, southeastern myotis, northern long-ear bats, and the endangered gray bats and Indiana bats.
On thick muggy nights, heavy moist air keeps light bodied insects down low, and so too, the bats. If you stand quietly in a meadow or yard you can watch the show open right above your head. If you are very lucky, you will hear the soft flutter of webbed wings or the whisper quiet tick, tick, tick of echolocation calls as passing bats pick off insects down in the human realm. On warm dry nights, the bugs fly higher; stand on the edge of a woodlot or a parking lot in a city park and look over the treetops to watch the air show until it gets too dark to see.
It’s important to watch and learn this dance now, for it threatens to vanish in our lifetimes. White-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease, is wiping out bats in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic US. From a single site in 2006, WNS has spread to 19 states and 4 Canadian provinces and threatens to cross the Rocky Mountains in a few short years. Attacking hibernating bats as they winter over in caves and mines, WNS has killed approximately 6 million bats in just 6 years. In fact, WNS is considered the most devastating wildlife disease to hit North America in recorded history. Hundreds of scientists, conservationists, students, and concerned citizens are struggling to find a way to slow or stop WNS, but more needs to be done. One of the most important things that anyone can do is to start caring about bats just because they are. We don’t ask tigers or pandas or sea turtles to provide a service in order to care about them. Yes, bats are harder to see than a tiger, but they are beautiful in their own right. They dance a joyous dance at dusk; please go see them.
For more information and to see bat faces and bats in action, please visit us at The Save Lucy Campaign www.saveLucytheBat.org.
Pictured to the right is a Northern Long-Ear, one of the species most affected by WNS. The Save Lucy Campaign brought this one into rehab because it had an ear injury, but it recovered within a week and was released right back where it was found! Photo by Rich Sturges