Elachee Offers Educational Look at Bats and Their Benefits

By Alex Popp, The Gainesville Times originally posted March 6, 2016

Elachee Nature Science Center was host [March 5] to a bat festival Saturday to promote its current educational exhibit, “Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats,” that will run through Labor Day.

Both the festival and the exhibit are part of a large effort to stress the ecological importance of bats and dispel myths that have surrounded them for centuries.

“Bats are very important to the ecosystem,” said Melissa Reid, Elachee education program manager. “We found that people don’t have much information about them.”

“We learned a lot, too.”

Reid said most commonly held beliefs surrounding bats, like the notion that all bats are blind or vampiric, were actually myths sprinkled with bits of fact.

Bats play a very important role in the ecosystem, eliminating up to 600 pest insects an hour that could otherwise be damaging to other species of crops.

Georgia is home to 16 species of bats. In Georgia, they are threatened by a disease called white nose syndrome, that has killed nearly 6 million bats nationally over the last century. Reid compared the disease’s effects to the colony collapses seen in bee populations over the last decades. She went on to say the consequences of a declining bat population could be severe.

In addition to the exhibit itself, Bat-Fest guests had a chance to see firsthand the difference between mammals and marsupials from a pair of shy sugar gliders handled by Elachee naturalist Emily Jennings, and a presentation from UNG Professor Evan Lampert on the complex relationship between bats and the insects they eat.

This event was one of a continuing series of events that Elachee holds throughout the year in its attempt to fulfill its mission of “promoting environmental understanding through education and conservation.”

Next Saturday will be holding another event, Raptor Fest 2016, where guests will have an opportunity to learn about, and “take a selfie with” some of Georgia’s fiercest birds of prey.

To find out more, visit www.elachee.org.