East Lake library event seeks to quell fears of bats
A guest photographs a live bat during last week's presentation on the animals at the East Lake Community Library. Francine Prager, shown here handling the bat, is from the Florida Bat Conservancy and led the informative presentation. ERIC HORCHY/STAFF
EAST LAKE — Unlike cuddly looking koalas, fluffy rabbits and cute, curious lemurs, there exist the planet's animal species that don't quite enjoy such lavish outpourings of love. Sometimes the reason can be physical; creatures with looks only a mother could love. Other times a bad rap based on generations of folklore and tales — some factual, many not — can demonize an entire species. In the case of many types of bats, it's a double whammy of stigmas that have landed the flying mammals in pariah status. To help dispel negative myths and opinions, Francine Prager of the Florida Bat Conservancy, in the Bay Pines area, spoke to a small group of children and adults about the creatures and their ecological importance.
Prager led a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation that featured bats both indigenous to North America and around the world. Audience members then had an opportunity to ask questions and get an up-close-and-personal look at four small animals Prager brought to the East Lake Community Library. Bats use echolocation, a process of making noises and picking up the reflected sound waves to help with finding prey and maneuvering during flight. With the help of an ultrasonic bat detector, Prager was able to induce the animals to emit their squeaky chirps. Prager said she gives various forms of her presentation all around the area and that October, i.e. Halloween time, is a peak period for bat interest because of their place in some vampire myths. While the bat's role in Halloween typically reinforces negative connotations, Prager makes sure to spotlight the animal's environmental importance. Bats play a large role in the pollination of plants, both wild and agricultural, and reducing insect populations, notably mosquitoes. A study released in 2011 by the University of Tennessee's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology estimated that the value of bats to the agricultural industry is roughly $22.9 billion per year.