Friends of Silver Saddle learn about the merits of a little, squeaking ally

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Barbara Lowal, from left, looks at bats with Michael Bish and Phyllis Atkinson at the Silver Saddle Ranch in Carson Saturday morning.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Barbara Lowal, from left, looks at bats with Michael Bish and Phyllis Atkinson at the Silver Saddle Ranch in Carson Saturday morning.

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The tiny creatures with furry bodies, stretched-skin wings and funnel-like ears give most people the creeps but Jeni Jeffers loves bats. She talked about them excitedly during a presentation for the Friends of the Silver Saddle Ranch on Saturday.

"I never get tired of watching them take off," she said. "They can just pop up with the slightest effort. To me, it's really one of the magical things of biology."

The Nevada Division of Wildlife biologist studies more than bats, but they are one of her favorites. She used to sit under the flood lights at night on the New Mexico farm where she grew up, watching bats flutter above. Now she's working on a brochure to help Nevadans identify the nine most common Silver State variety.

There are a lot of pallid bats, she explains, big browns, little browns and Brazilian free-tails. About 100,000 of the latter live under McCarran Bridge which spans the Truckee River in Sparks.

The bats are something to protect, not fear, she says. Nursing mother bats eat their own body weight in mosquitoes and other pests each night.

"We did the calculations on the bats that live under McCarran and that's about 75 tons of mosquitoes over the season," she said.

"That's a lot of mosquitoes," said Dan Greytak, a member of the Friends.

Eating so many insects helps slow the spread of disease and decreases the amount of insecticide humans must use.

Bats also pollinate fruit trees and crops, they fertilize the ground with their guano, or waste, and contrary to popular belief, they don't get tangled in human hair.

"Our grandmothers always told us that so it must be true, right?" asked Jeffers. Wrong.

Bats see so well with their echolocation they can detect - and avoid - even a single strand of hair. And they're not blind. Bats see as well as other mammals in the light - their echolocation is an additional sense used in the dark. Jeffers described walking in mine shafts with only 6 inches between her head and the walls. Bats flew past her with ease - or simply turned around.

"They'd flip U-eys right in front of my face."

Scientists have learned more about bats in the last 10 or 15 years than in the previous 100, she said.

Another thing they've learned is that the fear of getting rabies from bats is overblown. Less than one half of one percent of bats carry rabies, Jeffers said.

"Cats and dogs, skunks and raccoons carry rabies to a much higher degree," she said.

Bats suffer from habitat loss and environmental pollution as humans encroach, but Jeffers has ideas on how to help them.She passed out Bat Conservation International's bat house builder's guide. A bat house is a waterproof, vertical box with an open bottom and slots for the bats to hang in.

Friend Phyllis Atkinson was especially interested in bat houses because her son Doug Lipka built three for his Eagle Scout project in November. Doug, a 14-year-old with Troop 341, put three bat houses and three bird houses in the cottonwoods down by the Carson River at the ranch. They are too low, said his mom.

"We're planning to move them to the hay barn."

Building the homes is the best way to help bats, Jeffers said.

"We need to give them someplace to live where they are not in conflict with humans. That's something anybody can do."

The Friends have a presentation every other month on the first Saturday. Past topics have included geology, wetlands and native plants. The next topic may be wild horses and burros, said Friends President Nancy Bish. For details call 884-1570.

Contact Karl Horeis at or 881-1219.


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