CLERMONT — Ever built a birdhouse for a scouting project … or because birds are cute?
Or because it’s something you could probably build without cutting off a finger with an industrial-sized table saw?
For one cub scout leader in Clermont, Valerie Walsted, the answer is yes – although this year she and the cubs are doing something a bit different. They’re building a bat house.
As Walsted said after a recent ‘bat’ event, “This year’s theme is monsters, myths and legends. I’ve always been intrigued by bats. There’s the myth that bats are monsters. We’re going to debunk the myth.”
Walsted’s cub scout day camp — and bat house — won’t actually happen until school is out for the summer. Her inspiration came mid-May at BB Brown’s Gardens, south of Clermont.
BB Brown’s, a nursery with an emphasis on Florida native plants, is a veritable hotbed of Earth-friendly activities. It’s home to the Florida Scrub-Jay Trail, and on May 14 it hosted a presentation by Central Florida’s own bat man and bat woman, George and Cynthia Marks.
The couple from Bay Pines in the Tampa Bay area head the Florida Bat Conservancy.
“I’ve been into bats for over 20 years,” Cynthia Marks said. “I’d always been interested in them. We saw this flyer about a bat program, and we decided to go.”
As the saying goes, the rest is history.
The Marks founded what is now known as the Florida Bat Conservancy in 1994, with the goal of protecting bats in Florida by education, habitat enhancement (such as bat houses) and by actual rescue and rehabilitation of injured or orphaned bats. At the presentation in Clermont about 15 people crowded the nursery’s little trail head store while Cynthia Marks showed slides of some of bats and George Marks showed the bat house, and they jointly showed off some real live bats.
The bats are cute. More importantly, as both Marks pointed out, a single bat can eat up to 3,000 insects in a single night.
When it comes to placing the bat houses, Cynthia Marks reported that the worst possible place is in a tree.
“There are bats that live in trees,” she said. “But they are solitary bats. The bats that live in colonies don’t live in trees.”
Cynthia Marks suggests placing the bat houses in the open, at least 10 feet up, where bats will be able to find the houses. Bats locate their prey in the dark by echolocation, which they use within a range of about 12 feet. Their echolocation abilities are responsible for the little mammals’ typical open-mouth pose in photos. Like any good “singer,” they open their mouths in order to get the high-pitches sounds out.
George Marks reports that the bats’ “sonar” signals come out an ear-splitting 120 decibels, which is about the same level of loudness as a chainsaw. The signals are one to two octaves higher than most humans can hear — but are well within the normal hearing ranges of dogs and cats.
For more information on Florida bats, visit the Florida Bat Conservancy Web site at www.floridabats.org.
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