A word of caution: The following is semi-educational and may be disturbing for some readers who get freaked out by vampires, vaguely scientific words, and cute wittle fuzzballs with precious wittle noses and pointy wittle ears. Rated 2spooky4me.
Welcome to the dark side, mortals.
‘Tis I, the Early Bird, with gripping tales of terror and intrigue on this Hallows Eve Eve Eve *10^9. Let’s be honest, it’s been spooky time since the first leaf fell onto Middle Path in August and that leaf wasn’t even ready to drop, it just blew off in a gust of wind. This week I want to draw your attention to our silent overlords. They are always there lurking in ever dank corner of the library, every crag in the Gothic stonework of Smather, every musty poorly-lit lobby of your dorm building, every hollow of those maples your parents were oohing and aahing over this weekend. They rarely make their presence known, at least when the lights are on but when darkness falls they emerge and take to the skies. Yes, you know the beasts of which I speak, the most terrifying, unholy, adorable creatures to ever roam the night.
THE LITTLE BROWN BATS!!!
Alright, in retrospect their scientific name Myotis lucifugus is astronomically more occult-sounding than ‘Little Brown Bat.’ These 5 inch fluff balls of doom haunt our hallowed halls, hanging upside down by their feet and striking fear in the hearts of Second City performers.
I’ll admit that bats are a little bizarre, but no more so than us hairless apes with our giant heads and weird bendy phalanges, and bats can do much more impressive things with their phalanges than type and operate heavy machinery: they can fly. Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight, unlike those sugar gliders and flying squirrels who are really just glorified long-jumpers, and don’t get me started on the weirdos who engineer giant metal birds so they can watch movies and eat peanuts at 45,000 feet. Bats are such outcasts that they occupy their own order Chiroptera within the kingdom Mammalia. They’re an ancient lineage dating back over 50 million years, making humans look like wee fetuses with our measly 200,000 years. Scientists have very little idea of how bats converted their forelimbs to wings, but they do know their body plans haven’t changed much since the Eocene, so something must be working. In terms of evolution, it seems that bats really came out of left field. Get it, baseball? Bats? Nope, just me.
Why is everyone so freaked out by these marvelous freaks of nature? Traditionally, bats are associated with the dark and demonic because of their nocturnal lifestyles, since anyone who’s more active at night is clearly untrustworthy. You know bats, owls, raccoons, 7-11 clerks, Stephen Colbert- all deeply dangerous beings. The concept of blood-sucking demons, or vampires, predates their association with bats (and sparkling,) but the connection didn’t really take flight until Bram Stoker and his infamous Scooby Doo villain Dracula, inspired by nightmarish stories from South America where bats supposedly feasted on human blood. Yes, there are three species of bats in the subfamily Desmodontinae who live in the jungles of Central and South America and live by sucking blood from cattle, horses and the occasional person, but even then they only sip about a teaspoons worth and rarely harm their victims other than an itchy fang mark. In terms of the rest of the bat clan with 1,240 some odd members, vampire bats are that weird relative twice removed who packs their own ultra-organic type AB lunch for the family reunion and will not stop snorting in derision at everyone else quietly lapping their fruit juice and crunching insects. Do you have any idea how unsanitary that is? Ugh, Aunt Vivian no one even invited you.
Really, bats’ crepuscular tendencies are not proof of their nefarious ways but their strategic smarts. At night, bats avoid competition from other diurnal insectivores and many insects are more active at night because they too are trying to avoid clacking bird beaks, but they didn’t plan on the mammals sprouting wings. Ingenious. Bats aren’t in any sense blind and may very well have even more sensitive vision than people, but you try absorbing light through your optic cones when the world is bathed in complete darkness. Pretty tricky, isn’t it? Instead, microbats like our little browns developed echolocation, allowing them to see with their cartoonishly large ears. They generate a high pitched clicking noise which sends out highly concentrated sound waves at up to 100 kHz, way above our hearing range of 20 kHz. Sound waves bounce off solid objects and return like an echo, which bats use to tell where the object is and how long until they collide with it. This way, bats can avoid obstacles and other bats in the pitch darkness and find the locations of tasty moths with the power of their voices. Want to give it a go? Walk into the library at 5:30 pm, shout ‘pierogies’ and see if all the students don’t instantly materialize.
When they aren’t clicking and swooping around in the night, bats are cozied up in a nice tree hollow or abandoned classroom. Their typical roost sites are underground caves, rock crevices and trees but human habitations also provide convenient lodging for sleepy bats, and with our taste in architecture, Kenyon is the mother-load. Harry Potter fanatics aren’t the only ones attracted by the college’s Hogwartsian aesthetic. If you’re looking for a cool dark place to curl up and nap with your buddies, look no further than the stone walls of Old Kenyon or the rafters of Rosse Hall. During the winter, bats enter a state of torpor that significantly reduces their activity to conserve energy in the cold months of winter and they may stay asleep for weeks at a time. Bats are also highly social animals who prefer to roost in groups, huddling together for warmth and companionship. If you shine a flashlight into a tree cavity you may find twenty fuzzy bodies snuggled in and around and on top of each other. Coincidentally, you may find a similar scene if you shine a flashlight in an NCA on Sunday morning.
Probably the most cited reason for bad blood toward bats is the notion that they carry rabies. While it’s true that some bats are carriers of the disease, this ‘some’ is less than 1% of the entire bat population of the U.S., nay, the world even, and anyone who’s ever taken AP statistics knows that 1% is not a statistically significant value. Besides, one of the main courses of any bat meal is mosquitoes, which carry a whole host of dangerous ailments and unlike bats actively try to bite people. Bats are tackling the real bloodsuckers, acting as key players in the control of mosquito populations. Maybe it isn’t ideal that they’re eavesdropping on your philosophy lecture- they totally know you didn’t finish the reading by the way- but if we didn’t have bats, disease infections would skyrocket, we’d be covered in nasty swelled bites all the time, no one would get any sleep from all the buzzing in their ears and life would be pretty unbearable between March and November.
And hear me out, but if your chances of catching rabies from a bat are less than 1%, I’d say your chances of catching something sticky and nasty and incapacitating from a fellow germ-ridden student are at least 50%, especially this time of year. My Neuroscience midterm this morning was a cacophony of snuffling and wheezing. ‘Tis the season.
So this Halloween, if you really want to be scary just go as yourself because compared to humans, bats are bright-eyed, perky-eared, fuzzy-winged uncontaminated angels.
Happy Halloween, sickos.