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Scouts, NHS swim team build bat houses

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The 96th Civil Engineer Group’s Jackson Guard recently partnered with Eglin Cub Scout Pack 50 and the Niceville High School swim team to help conserve Eglin’s bat population.

The youths assembled do-it-yourself bat house kits provided by JG. After the bat houses were painted with their initials, pack number and school name, JG installed six new houses on the reservation.

“Bats are important to the ecosystem and they benefit human beings,” said Lorraine Ketzler, a 96th CEG biological science technician. “Part of this project is the environmental education for the kids and to help bring public awareness for bats.”

According to Ketzler, bats are in decline due to various causes throughout Northeast America. They are affected by White-nose Syndrome, a disease caused by a cold weather fungus.

Although JG has not found WNS cases here, there is concern about how human activity affects bat populations. There is also a concern, about how the loss of these winged mammals may impact the environment. Currently, Eglin’s bat population acts as a natural pest control.

“Bats eat a lot of bugs. An individual bat, especially a pregnant bat in the middle of summer, eats a tremendous amount of bugs,” said Ketzler. “They eat mosquitoes, biting flies and crop pests.”

The bat houses located near water sources on the reservation provide space for a large colonies. The houses can accommodate 40 to 60 bats and were paired on poles, with two poles per location. If there are couple of houses in the same area, more are likely to revisit and roost there.

“The bats usually sleep in the houses during the day.  They forage in the forest at night, then they come back to sleep,” she said. “If you stand underneath the opening you can hear them communicate using little high-pitched and screechy sounds.”

Acoustical data gathered by JC can identify bat species by the sound of their calls.

Acoustic surveys are usually conducted four times a year. Within the four-night period, an average of more than 200 individual bat calls are collected according to Kelly Knight, an environmental scientist with the 96th CEG.

Knight noted the most common bats found on the reservation are the Brazilian free-tailed bat, also known as the Mexican free-tailed bat, the Southeastern Myotis, the Tri-colored bat, the Eastern red bat, the Evening bat and the Seminole bat.

There are many myths and misconceptions about the furry, winged mammals that cause people to feel uncomfortable.

“People should not be afraid of them. They won’t fly in your hair. Their biological sonar system, echolocation makes them aware of everything in their environment. They will not bite, attack or hurt you,” said Ketzler. “Bats are good to have around. They eat the mosquitoes and other bugs we don’t like. Bats are cute and people should learn to like them.”

PHOTO: A newly-installed bat house sits near the left bank of Anderson Pond on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. These and two others were placed near water areas on the Eglin Range to provide a sanctuary to bat colonies. There are more than five different species of bats throughout the Eglin reservation. Bats provide the range with natural pest control eating bugs and mosquitoes.

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