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Going batty: Tinker home to eight species of the nocturnal creatures

A red bat has found a comfortable resting spot on some aircraft landing gear. (Courtesy photo)

A red bat has found a comfortable resting spot on some aircraft landing gear. (Courtesy photo)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- With 23 different species of bats in Oklahoma, it should come as no surprise that some of them call Tinker AFB home.

In fact, eight species have been discovered on base, living in the hangars and woodlands. As of today, personnel with the 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate Natural Resources Office have identified the Eastern Red bat, Evening bat, Mexican or Brazilian free-tailed bat, Tricolored bat, Northern Myotis or Northern long-eared bat (pending confirmation), Hoary bat and both the Big brown and Little brown bats living at Tinker.

Tinker bats can be found roosting in trees and buildings. Some, like the red bats, hang onto leaves when they sleep, according to Ray Moody, biologist with Natural Resources. Other places might be an airplane hangar or a quiet building with a dark cool place for them to curl up.

"We usually get calls every year at this time, when people find bats in their building or the hangars," said Mr. Moody. "The bats are usually dehydrated, but this year we haven't had any calls probably because we've had a good amount of rain."

Mr. Moody cautions the Tinker workforce to leave bats alone if they encounter one.
"Don't handle the bats if you find one," said Mr. Moody. "People tend to freak out and want the bat gone, but bats can carry disease such as rabies," he said.

Dr. Jason Shaw, a vertebrate biologist and assistant professor at the University of Science and Arts in Oklahoma, agrees.

"Bats are not aggressive, but can be dangerous if they are sick," he said. "Don't touch bats, especially if they're on the ground, during the day -- that could be a sign of rabies."
Specialists such as Dr. Shaw are experienced at handling bats and other creatures. Dr. Shaw keeps up on rabies vaccinations to be on the safe side. "I have never been bitten," he said, "but it is good to take the precaution just in case."

Dr. Shaw began working with bats while working on his master's degree and has been studying them for the past 11 years. "Bats are amazing," he said.

With Dr. Shaw's assistance, students put recorders on base to listen to the bats. Recordings have taken place between April and September of 2013 and began in May of this year and will run through September. So far they have recorded the Evening bat, Mexican free-tailed bat, Tricolored bat, Eastern red bat and the Big brown bat. The recorders can pick up the echolocation signal put out by the bats and computer software is used to identify bats to species as bats have species specific echolocation calls.

Bats hunt by echolocation in which they can emit a high frequency signal, undetectable to human ears. By listening to the echoes reflected back to them, the bats can navigate around objects to capture their prey.

Bats are the only major predator of night flying insects. Mosquitos are an abundant food source, and some bats can consume approximately half their body weight or approximately 4,500 bugs in an evening.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and Conservation, bats reduce costs to the state by $6 million to $24 million in pesticides. Cost reduction makes bats not only good for an ecological system, but also economical.

Relating the service bats provide to Tinker to the savings on the "Road to a Billion," having a natural solution to ridding pests means Tinker will save big on pesticides.
Bats are pretty amazing. The female bats are at this time probably nursing young. Baby bats have a quick turnaround to become hunters on their own. Within a month, they are taking their first flight, soon after they begin to learn to hunt, according to Dr. Shaw.

Dr. Shaw and his students have been out on a few occasions to put up mesh netting in hopes of catching a few bats for their study. The team will record morphological measurements such as length, weight, sex and reproductive status. Mainly, the reason for catching them is to get a positive identification of the species on base.

So, it is probably a safe guess that bats will stay at Tinker due to the wonderful ecosystem provided here. Many bats are migratory, and some can fly as much as 50 miles a day, so Tinker may be just a quick vacation spot.

Forget the negative images of vampire bats out for blood, and welcome bats for the pest control specialists they are. Oklahoma bats are just here to mind their own business and eat as many bugs as possible, and that is a really good thing.

Call the Natural Resources office at 739-7065 if a bat is found. Do not touch it.