Bats! Beneficial, Beautiful, Bountiful, but Burdened

Lisa Gatens
NC Museum of Natural Sciences - Raleigh
Open Minds Teen Science Cafe Whiteville


Written by Patricia Faulk, Teen Leader.

Silver-haired bat skeleton

Skeleton of a Silver-haired bat

When dealing with the spooky month of October, bats are always a hot topic button with teens around the country. This perfectly-timed café leapt into the bountiful, beautiful, and burdened bats that are mostly native to our state of North Carolina. Lisa Gates lead the intriguing detailed discussion on the lifestyle of a bat and the different classifications among this vast world. “Bats are the only mammal capable of powered flight. They are able to propel themselves forward by themselves, instead of simply gliding,” she states in the beginning of the café before transitioning into their day-to-day behaviors, which includes echolocation, diets, daily struggles, and more. Depending on their species, bats eat from a variety of food sources and live in caves in specific areas. Each species has their own unique echolocation call, which is a technique used to locate their prey by using echoes and sound waves. While some bats feed on simple organisms like insects, nectar, and fruit, other bat species eat other bats, blood, and fish.

Skull of a vampire bat shown to be about the size of an adult thumb.

Skull of a Vampire bat (see, not so scary.)

Once the engaging basics were covered by Lisa Gates, she turned her presentation towards a more thought-provoking topic about bats. Recently, the bat population in the North America has been flipped upside down by a disease called White Nose Syndrome. The disease is named for the white fungus that collects on an affected bat’s face or body and is thought to be transmitted from bat to bat. It has dramatically decreased multiple bat populations. It causes a decrease in body fat, dehydration, and causes the bat to increase the amount of energy expended during hibernation, which ultimately kills the bats.

The sonogram of Little Brown bats is shown

Sonogram showing the call sequence of a Little Brown bat

Hands on Activity

After the lecture ended, the café alternated to the hands-on activity, which consisted of identifying the species of bat based on their echolocation pattern by using sonograms. Sonograms are visual representations of the calls of different bats. The sonogram of each species looks different, so it can be used to identify different species. Scientists use the bat calls when their equipment can pick up the sound, but cannot see the bat. Lisa created a sonogram key that the teens used to identify different species of bats for our activity.

Students gather to look at a bat.

The café ended with the showing of many different stuffed specimens that went along with the presentation. This absorbing café was quite enjoyable and sparked new interests to everyone who attended.