Bat expert sheds light on his winged friends at Greenville’s Optimist Camp


By Curtis Wildfong • Last Updated 12:28 pm on Monday, July 28, 2014

Rob Mies, the executive director and co-founder of the Organization for Bat Conservation, gave those in attendance at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Optimist Camp an hour-long presentation on bats, complete with a cameo by a trio of the winged mammals. — Daily News/Curtis Wildfong

GREENVILLE —  The 50th anniversary celebration of the Greenville Optimist Camp got a visit Saturday from the batman … no, not that one.

Rob Mies, the executive director and co-founder of the Organization for Bat Conservation, gave those in attendance an hour-long presentation on bats, complete with a cameo by a trio of the winged mammals.

While most people fear bats, Mies said, the creatures’ importance to nature and even humans is vastly unappreciated by the average person.

“Bats are the primary predator of night insects,” said Mies, adding a single bat eats up to 5,000 insects every day, including insects like moths — which can destroy crops — and irritating mosquitos.

Rob Mies shows off one of three bats he brought with him to show the crowd at the Optimist Camp’s 50th anniversary celebration Saturday. Larger bats, like the one shown here, are actually fruit-eaters. — Daily News/Curtis Wildfong

Mies said having bats nearby is a great benefit. Farmers may be the ones who benefit the most, he said. Nationwide, farmers see around $26 billion in benefits from insect-eating bats, greatly reducing the amount of pesticides and other insect repellents needed in fields and orchards. Bats also are known for spreading seeds, either through spitting them out or through their droppings, called guano.

“We want to keep them in our neighborhood,” Mies said.

There are several different species of bats across the world. Some eat insects while others are fruit eaters.

And contrary to popular belief (and a certain Indiana Jones movie), larger bats eat strictly fruit, while the smaller bats are the ones who feast on insects.

Mies went on to dispel several other misconceptions about bats.

Bats are not blind and while many use echolocation to zero in on prey, some depend on their eyesight. Fruit bats have a keen sense of smell for locating food.

And believe it or not, bats rarely are infected with rabies, Mies said, as few as 1 in 300.

Mies has studied bats all across the world and houses more than 100, all of which are rescue bats, at the conservation.

Bats typical live between 24 and 36 years, depending on the species.

“Bats are the longest lived mammals for their size,” Mies said.

Bat wings are made up of a thin membrane very similar to that of a human eyelid and the wing itself is comparable to a hand, with four fingers and a thumb. Their wings are essentially webbed hands, connecting to a wrist and elbow.

Bats cannot use their wings to glide, but instead constantly flap to remain airborne, Mies said. Bats appear to fly sporadically not because they struggle to see at night, but instead because they are hunting, flying through the air and picking off insects and eating them mid-flight.

Bat wings are made up of a thin membrane very similar to that of a human eyelid and the wing itself is comparable to a hand, with four fingers and a thumb. Their wings are essentially webbed hands, connecting to a wrist and elbow. — Daily News/Curtis Wildfong

Mies’ presentation, which was given at the invitation of Dr. Michael Stafford of The Cranbrook Institute, was part of an all-day celebration at the Optimist Camp, formerly known as Camp Wah-Wah-Tay-See, a camp for special needs students.

The 10-plus-acre camp serves more than 300 special needs students and adults through a collaboration between community groups and the public.

Owned by the city, the park is leased for $1 annually by Greenville Optimist Club. Its administration duties are handled by EightCAP Inc. and is almost entirely funded through community fundraisers and donations.

With activities like archery, fishing, canoeing, swimming, basketball, arts and crafts, boating and more, the Optimist Camp gives its campers a complete camping experience, whether just a day camp or overnight.

The camp offers five weeks of service to special needs campers during the summer. During the summer, camps are held for students 5 to 10 years old, 10 to 16 years old and adults.

Students from the William J. Seiter Educational Service Center also take part in a day camp three Fridays during the summer.

Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, read a proclamation signed by themselves and Gov. Rick Snyder honoring the camp’s 50 years of service.

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