Our theme last week for PWA was, “Creatures of the Night,” therefore, we worked in the evenings instead of during the day, anywhere from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. PWA spent the week learning about and surveying different nocturnal animals which are home to Jamestown. We met two specialists during the week in order to learn about bats and moths. Wednesday, we walked the streets of Jamestown near the Prendergast Library and behind Chadakoin Park to look for bats, using a device designed to translate the high-pitched sounds a bat makes into something we can hear. Even in the dark, we were able to spot plenty of bats flying over and around where we were walking! Later in the week, we attended a presentation at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute about moths. There was an indoor presentation which lasted about an hour with time for questions. After that, we all went out in the dark to check on the moth sheets our presenter and his team had set out earlier to attract the moths! We identified the species that we caught, learning all sorts of interesting facts about the moths around Chautauqua County. Both of these activities were also open to the public and it was a fun adventure working with everyone who attended!
During both presentations, we received a lot of new information; both of our presenters were very knowledgeable and passionate about their field of interest. In our time spent studying bats, we were able to learn about some very unique characteristics they have. Bats are the only mammals which are able to fly, and their skeletal structures are far more similar to our own than that of a bird. There are bats which feed on insects, on fruit, or on liquid, such as nectar or even blood. Vampire bats, however, do not feed on human blood, more often feeding on the blood of cattle. They inject an anticoagulant which numbs the spot they bite and keeps the blood from clotting, so that they may lap up as much blood as they need. We do not have any of them in our area though. A single insect-eating bat will consume millions of insects a night, and can fly many miles from their home. Nectar-drinking bats have extremely long tongues to help them drink nectar from flowers, and some have tongues longer than their bodies! Many bats use echolocation to find prey and navigate, but some use enhanced hearing or sight to find their way around and to hunt. Bats will usually either make their homes in trees or caves, and many will move into attics or barns, but they are mostly harmless.
Moths are food to insect-eating bats, and they have many different and interesting defense mechanisms. The mechanism I found most interesting was that some moths are able to mess with bats’ echolocation by making high-pitched sounds of their own, interfering with their ability to locate their prey. Other moths use camouflage. Some trying to blend in with their surroundings, some masquerading as other insects, and still others just trying to use the coloring on their wings to look scary. I was never very interested in moths or bats, but now that I know how much there is to learn about them, I’d like to know more!
Unfortunately, it is getting harder to observe bats when their populations are rapidly declining. Bats in North America are being affected by a disease known as White Nose Syndrome. This disease has a very high death rate. It tends to strike while bats are hibernating, causing them to use more energy in their sleep. They have to carefully ration energy during hibernation, and if they use too much too quickly, it can kill them. The disease, which is caused by a fungus, also causes white lesions to form on the bats’ ears and noses, which is where the name came from. White Nose Syndrome is present all over North America.
For moths, there are many collections of moth specimens from different areas for researchers to study and reference, but sadly, in our area, we have just around 39 samples, comparing to hundreds from other areas in New York. The Roger Tory Peterson Institute plans to help gather more samples to bulk up our collection. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up and discover the biodiversity that we have right here in Jamestown, NY.