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Stadalsky: Bat program will dispel myths and provide viewing of bats

The Forest Preserve District of Will County’s “Bats! Bats! Bats!” program will take place on Thursday at Hammel Woods in Shorewood. Attendees will view resident bats feeding on insects in the preserve and examples of live fruit bats provided by a group called Incredible Bats.
The Forest Preserve District of Will County’s “Bats! Bats! Bats!” program will take place on Thursday at Hammel Woods in Shorewood. Attendees will view resident bats feeding on insects in the preserve and examples of live fruit bats provided by a group called Incredible Bats.

Some people are deathly afraid of bats. Me, not so much. I don’t mind things such as bats, mice and even the garter snake that took up residence in the former ground squirrel holes around the foundation of my house. At least snakes don’t tear up my plants and don’t dig out the crushed limestone base under our sidewalks and patio causing them to crack.

As long as critters keep a fair distance, I’m happy to live alongside them in peace.

Anyway, bats get kind of a bad rap, said Erin Ecker, a forest preserve interpretive naturalist who organized the program, Bats! Bats! Bats!, set to take place at the Forest Preserve District of Will County on Thursday at Hammel Woods in Shorewood.

The Forest Preserve’s Natural Resource Land Manager Juanita Armstrong-Ullberg, said the biggest myth about bats is that they are unnecessary to nature. Without bats, she said, humans could be in big trouble.

Bats help control pest populations, they eat mosquitoes, moths and crop pests. They also reseed deforested land and pollinate plants including many we eat.

“They are very good for our environment,” Armstrong-Ullberg said.

It’s also a myth that they want to tangle up in your hair. More likely, they are going after bugs that are nearby your head. And bats don’t build nests, like birds do. Instead, they roost hanging upside down.

A shelter at Hammel Woods, which was built in the 1930s, attracted big brown bats years ago because it’s made of wood and bats like to roost in the nooks and crannies of the structure. The historic shelter has been their home since the 1990s. There’s a colony of anywhere from 70 to 150 bats that roost in the shelter.

The big brown bat is very common in Will County, along with the hoary bat, the red bat, silver-haired bat, evening bat, little brown bat, northern long-eared bat and the tri-colored bat.

At the Aug. 10 event, the Incredible Bats group will bring along a couple other species for people to see – the Egyptian fruit bat and African straw-colored fruit bat.

Their presentation will help bust a lot of myths about bats and celebrate the important role they play in the local ecosystem.

The program begins at 6 p.m. and goes until 8:30 p.m. But if you wait around a bit longer, you may get to see the big brown bats leaving the shelter at dusk, said Armstrong-Ullberg. It’s quite a sight to see.

I notice bats flying around at about dusk, hopefully going for the mosquitoes that prefer to bite me.

I did have a close encounter with a brown bat many years ago. I was staying with my sister in Bay City, Michigan, with my two sons who weren’t much more than toddlers at the time. My sister had a big, old Victorian home and the boys and I were all in the same bedroom.

During the night, I felt chilly so I got up and closed the window.

The next morning when I looked outside that same window, there was a brown bat hanging on the inside of the screen between the window that I had closed.

Evidentally, it was flying around in the room during the night because the bedroom door was closed.

I admit it was a little creepy knowing we shared our bedroom with a bat, but the kids loved being able to see it up close through the window. And it never tried to get into our hair.

• Kris Stadalsky writes about people and topics in areas southwest of Joliet. Reach her at writestuff56@comcast.net.

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