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Wildlife Park Focuses on Bats for October – Lots of Events!

By Susan Strawbridge Posted on October 6, 2016

During the month of October, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will be focusing on learning more about Florida’s bats.

Bats are an important part of natural ecosystems. They prey upon insects, some of which are agricultural or human pests. While there are more than 1,000 species of bats worldwide, Florida is home to 13 species of bats that are here year round or are seasonal residents.

Special displays will be set up in the park’s Visitor Center on US 19 and in the Discovery Center. Two special programs will be presented during the month where you can learn about these fascinating animals.

Learn about Florida’s Bats Oct. 27

Mammal conservation biologist Emily Evans, with the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, will present a program on Florida’s Bats Friday, October 27, 2016 at 1:00 pm in the Magnolia Room inside the park’s Visitor Center, located on US 19. There is no charge to attend this program.

Evans asks, “Did you know that the Florida bonneted bat is the largest bat in North America and is found only in South Florida?”

Lesser, Short Nosed Fruit Bat, Cynopterus Brachyotis.
Lesser, Short Nosed Fruit Bat, Cynopterus Brachyotis.

Topics include an introduction to the fascinating natural history of bats, Florida’s rich bat diversity, pressing conservation issues, and what you can do to help conserve bat species locally. There will be time to answer questions or discuss comments related to this exciting group of mammals.

A South Georgia native, Emily Evans, has recently returned to the FWC as a mammal conservation biologist. Her past adventures as a technician with the FWC included surveys for shrews in Key Largo, bats in North Florida, and beach mice throughout the panhandle. Her interest in the outdoors and mammal ecology led Emily to pursue a Master’s degree in Biology at Georgia Southern University. She worked on projects such as the GSU citizen science biodiversity project, and developed a long-term ecological study as a research tool for young biologists. Her current role with the FWC combines her passion for wildlife ecology with mammal conservation throughout the state of Florida.

Wildlife Jeopardy Oct. 15

Barbara Cairns, Park Volunteer presents Wildlife Jeopardy
Barbara Cairns, Park Volunteer presents Wildlife Jeopardy

On Saturday, October 15, 2016, starting at 1:00 pm, Park volunteer Barbara Cairns will present a Wildlife Jeopardy program on Bats in the park’s Discovery Center. Her program uses a 20-question format and invites visitors, old and young alike, to test their knowledge on these fascinating mammals. Her goal is to have each person learn at least one new fact about bats. Regular park admission applies.

Barbara works as a docent in the Children’s Education Center and as a retired school principal has taught in overseas Dept. of Defense Schools in Labrador, Germany, and Panama. She is a published author with articles and stories in books, magazines and newspapers. Her books include Cracker Cow: a Narrative of Florida History, Gatsby’s Adventures series, The Not So Secret Life of Nimh, A Dumbo Rat and her latest book, Nettie’s Dream. For more information on this program, please call Susan at (352) 628-5445, ext. 1002.

Bat Basics 101

Image courtesy of gwmiddleditch on Pixabay.
Image courtesy of gwmiddleditch on Pixabay.

Bats are members of a unique group or order called Chiroptera which means “hand wing.” While there are other mammals such as flying squirrels who can glide short distances, Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly. According to the Florida Bat Conservancy, bats literally fly with their hands. Their wings being much like our hands with longer fingers and a thin, tough membrane (skin) between the fingers.

We have learned from studying fossil records that bats have existed for more than 65 million years. Seventy-percent of the world’s bats exist on a diet of insects. Most of the thirteen species of bats in Florida are insectivores. Each bat can consume as many as 3,000 insects or the equivalent of their body weight in one night.

The Malayan bat, a fruit-eater, is the largest bat in the world and has a wingspan of six feet. The smallest bat is the Bumblebee bat is the size of your thumbnail and weighs less than a penny.

Myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions about bats

Look how much this bat looks like a flying dog... fuzzy with wings.
Look how much this bat looks like a flying dog… fuzzy with wings.

People have many myths, misunderstandings and misconceptions about bats. They are not blind. Actually bats have the same five senses we do including smell, hearing, taste, sight and feeling. In addition to these shared senses, most bats have highly developed sonar capabilities called “echolocation.” They navigate by uttering ultrasonic cries that return as echoes off solid objects.

Many people are under the impression that bats attack people and that they get entangled in your hair. This is not true. In fact they are actually quite timid and ignore humans as much as possible. There are no Vampire bats in the United States. They are only found in southern Mexico, Central and South America.

It is not true that all bats are rabid. Less than one percent of bats contract rabies and when they do, they die with three or four days. The Florida Bat Conservancy recommends that you “Never handle or play with any wild animals, including bats. They are wild and are meant to be left alone.”

Sadly bats are now threatened and are disappearing at alarming rates as a result of disturbance or destruction of their roosting sites. This is the result of development and vandalism. Most Florida bats roost on mature or dead trees or in caves. When they are pushed out of urban areas they may take up residence in buildings where they can become targets of abuse.

How you can help preserve bats

Bat houses help to attract the insect-eating mammals to your yard. Plans can be found online to DIY.
Bat houses help to attract the insect-eating mammals to your yard. Plans can be found online to DIY.

The best way we can help preserve bat populations is by learning more about them and sharing what you learn with others. The construction of bat houses that can be placed in your yard is also beneficial by providing bats with much-needed and safe places to live. In return the bats will eat insects around the area. Plans for building bat houses are available on many websites including the Florida Bat Conservancy’s website.

Wildlife Puppet Play Oct. 15

In other news at the park the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park will be presenting the first in their new series of Wildlife Puppeteers’ plays on Saturday, October 15, 2016 in the park’s Discovery Center.

The title of the new series of plays is “This is your life…Lu, the hippopotamus!” The puppet play is based on the 1950s television show. Lu’s family and friends, past and present, join in celebrating his uniqueness. The Puppeteers invite you join them to sing hippo songs, laugh with them as Lu remembers his life, back to when he was a Californian. Regular park admission applies.

Monthly Bird Walk Oct. 22

Experienced birders from Citrus County Audubon Society are scheduling their first bird walk of the fall and winter season on Sat.,, Oct. 22, 2016. Novice and experienced birders can meet at the flagpole by the Visitor Center entrance located on US 19 at 7:45 am. The bird walk begins at 8:00 am. There is no charge to participate. Please call Susan (352) 628-5445, extension 1002 to register.

Haunted Tram Rides Oct. 28-29

Haunted Tram Rides are a fun fundraiser put on by the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. It's a great event to take the family too. Just enough spooky, but just enough community to make everyone have a good time!
Haunted Tram Rides are a fun fundraiser put on by the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. It’s a great event to take the family too. Just enough spooky, but just enough community to make everyone have a good time!

The Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park are preparing for another of their popular events, the Haunted Tram Rides. Pepper Creek Trail will be transformed during these evenings into a trail of haunting scenarios. “This year’s event will be even bigger and better than ever,” says Friends’ president Joe Dube.  Tram rides run for two nights on Fri., Oct. 28 and Sat., Oct. 29, 2016. The event begins at 6:00 pm, and runs until 10:00 pm.

This is the twelfth year the Friends will be holding the Haunted Tram Rides event which attracts thousands of visitors each night. In addition to the Haunted Tram Rides, the event includes costume contests, a fun slide, and refreshments. The suggested donation for the tram ride is $5.00 for adults (age 13 and over) and $3.00 for children up to age 12.

A Haunted House will be set up in the Florida Room with hours as follows: Thurs., Oct. 27, from 11:00 am until 4:00 pm; Fri., Oct. 28 and Sat., Oct. 29 from 11:00 am until 4:00 pm and will reopen from 6:00 pm until 10:00 pm. The hours on Sun., Oct. 30 are from 11:00 am until 4:00 pm. The donation for admission to the Haunted House is $2.00 per person.

We hope you will come to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park this month and learn about Florida’s bats. Consider including a trip through the park and enjoy a chance to see and learn about Florida’s native wildlife.

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