An educator from the nearby Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge dispelled some common bat myths and talked about the biology and habits of the flying mammals.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bat enthusiast Adelynn Maue watches as Seth Winkelhake uses a sound monitor to see if any bats are in the area.It's that time of year when the Tigard Tigers, Tualatin Timberwolves and Sherwood Bowmen start stepping up to the plate and cranking home runs.

But Monday, April 17, was a day for people to appreciate bats of a different kind — bats, as in the flying mammals with the big ears and funny noses.

The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, located off Highway 99W between Tualatin and Sherwood, is home to as many as 10 species of bat. The refuge dispatched environmental education specialist Seth Winkelhake to the Tualatin Public Library for an informative and family-friendly talk about the frequently misunderstood creatures Monday evening.

Contrary to common conceptions, bats are not rodents, Winkelhake said, and while they can be a vector for rabies, the incidence of rabid bats is well below one in 200. While they have teeth, they are generally too small to hurt anyone if they do bite. Larger vampire bats, which feed on blood, are not native to Oregon or anywhere else in the United States.

"In general, a healthy bat isn't going to come around people or bite anyone," Winkelhake said.

Bats play an important role in the ecosystem, Winkelhake noted. Some species of bat, as they fly from plant to plant, serve as pollinators in much the same way that bees do. Fruit bats disperse seeds in their droppings, a form of natural propagation. Insectivorous bats, like the brown bats that can often be seen after dusk, help control mosquito, gnat and midge populations.

"Actually, in Oregon, we don't have any fruit bats. Because if you look at how long the fruit season is, it's not very long. They would spend a lot of energy flying up here, eating the fruit, and then flying back to somewhere where it's warmer and there's other fruit bats," Winkelhake said. "So all of the 15 species that we have here in Oregon are all insectivore bats."

Winkelhake led the attendees of his Bat Appreciation Day talk outside and across Boones Ferry Road in the hopes they might see some bats flying around, beginning their nightly hunt for flying insects to eat. There weren't any bats to be found, but Winkelhake took the opportunity to explain how staff at the wildlife refuge use sound detectors to pick out the high-pitched cries of bats on the wing and even identify their species based on their pitch and frequency.

Like birds, bats will nest in manmade structures, including "bat houses" that can be specially built to accommodate them.

"Bat Conservation International has some really great resources on how to attract bats in the proper way," Winkelhake said.

There was almost certainly no bigger bat aficionado at the Tualatin Library on Monday evening than 7-year-old Adelynn Maue. Dressed up in a bat costume — complete with wings — and clutching a stuffed bat toy, she listened raptly as Winkelhake talked about her favorite animals.

"She's actually been in love with bats since she was about 3," said her father, Morgan Maue.

The Maues came all the way from Hillsboro for the event in Tualatin. Adelynn keeps an eye out for any bat-related talks, activities or workshops in the area, Morgan Maue said, and she also loves to visit the bat exhibit at the Oregon Zoo, which was also celebrating Bat Appreciation Day on Monday.

Adelynn didn't have to think for very long when asked why she likes bats so much.

"They're really cute," she said, "and they eat mosquitoes."

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Seth Winkelhake demonstrates how large a bat wing would be if humans had them, during a talk at the Tualatin Library.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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