Some of the more common questions kids ask Ken and Barb Bowman about bats demonstrate how urban legend has influenced the way children as well as their parents perceive these nocturnal flying mammals.
"Kids ask if all bats are vampires," says Bowman, who with his wife, Barb, runs the volunteer organization Bat Conservation of Wisconsin (or BCOW) in Sun Prairie. "A lot of parents ask about rabies. They see things on TV like bats getting stuck in hair and that all bats are blind, and that makes an impression. That's why we do what we do."
For the past 12 years the Bowmans have been answering just such questions about bats and teaching primarily kids at about 30 educational programs at state park nature centers, libraries and some schools. And with the high likelihood of serious bat disease reaching Wisconsin soon, that education is more important than ever.
The Bowmans founded the nonprofit Bat Conservation of Wisconsin in 1999, turning their fascination with bats into a passion. "In the early 1980s, everyone was into saving the wolves, the polar bears and baby seals, but nobody was saying 'let's go save the bats,'" says Ken Bowman.
Bat Conservation of Wisconsin educates people about the benefits of bats in the environment, and is licensed to perform bat rescue and rehabilitation through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Last winter, for example, the Bowmans rescued a record 205 bats. The winter before they helped 193 survive the winter after people found them hanging on rooflines, attics and in old houses. "In the wintertime, we maintain all the bats we capture or get in. If you take them outside they will starve to death," says Ken.
From the middle of September through the winter, BCOW receives 10-15 bats a day that people find and do not want around their house. In the middle of winter, it can take up to 45 minutes to feed and care for all the bats.
Twelve bats are permanent residents at BCOW, not releasable due to injury. The type of bats that currently call BCOW home reflect some of the variety of species commonly found in Wisconsin: Hoary, Big Brown and Little Brown. These permanent residents become part of the organization's education efforts, the ultimate teaching aid.
"It's much easier to teach kids about bats because they're open to new things and don't have the fears that adults have," says Barb Bowman. "Anytime you bring a live animal to a program, kids love it. They are very curious. Some little girls think they're icky, but most people think they're cute." Most kids, in fact, want to touch the bats, which is strictly forbidden. Although cute, they are wild animals and to be left alone.
Another big part of their lesson on bat benefits: All Wisconsin bats are night insect eaters. "They eat a lot of insects that bother us and our food supply," Bowman says. "In Wisconsin they only eat nighttime flying insects, including mosquitoes, gnats, moths, beetles and June bugs."
About the bug eating: Ken notes that kids always want to know if bats will eat lightning bugs. The answer: No.
Nor do all bats carry rabies, another one of those urban myths. "In the wild, raccoons and skunks have higher incidence of rabies than bats," Ken says. He says in the past 60 years, two people in Wisconsin have died as a result of encountering a bat with rabies.
It's more important now than ever to dispel these bat myths and educate kids about bats' role in the ecosystem, according to the Wisconsin DNR and others interested in preserving bats. The DNR has undertaken an aggressive campaign on behalf of these animals as they wait for a fungal bat disease that affects hibernating bats to hit the state. The department has also proposed a new set of emergency measures to protect bats from the fungus.
White-nose syndrome, fatal for some affected bats, has not yet been discovered in any Wisconsin bat species, but has been found as close as 230 miles away in Missouri, as well as 300 miles north in Canada. DNR conservation biologist Paul White says white-nose syndrome could hit Wisconsin's bats this winter or next.
White advises families to learn about the disease, which causes hibernating bats to prematurely leave their cave or other hibernating spot during the winter in search of food. Then, if they notice bats outside in January and February, they can report the information using the DNR's online data form or by calling the department. They can also participate in the DNR's bat monitoring Programs next spring.
"Unfortunately, I think people will only realize the good things bats do after they're gone," White says.
For more about bats
For more information on Bat Conservation of Wisconsin or to talk to them about presenting an education program for your group, contact them at 608-837-2287 or firstname.lastname@example.org powered by Disqus
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.