Thursday, February 14, 2008

And Now, It's Bats

So, last year it was bees who were undergoing catastrophic population collapse. Now comes a story about a massive bat die-off underway in the Northeast, particularly New York and Vermont, and spreading rapidly.

This is particularly disturbing, given that they've still not figured out why a large percentage of America's honeybees died last year, other than to give the phenomenon a name ("Colony Collapse Discover", or CCD).* And, while many people are inexplicably afraid of bats (mainly because of the rabies myth), we need them, both as pollinators and as devourers of vast quantities of bugs. The fewer bats, the more mosquitoes--which is bad in these days of West Nile Virus and depleted bee populations.

I'm old enough to remember all the honeybees and butterflies we had in our clover-covered backyard every summer when we lived in Monticello, before pesticides brought their numbers down to the small remnant we see today. We avoided the total disappearance Rachel Carson had warned us about by banning DDT just in time, but though stabilized (until recently) neither has ever recovered. Nowdays I see far more bumblebees than honeybees, a complete reversal of the way things used to be. I'd hate to see the same thing happen to bats, and for the last of the honeybees to go the way of the Chestnut and the Elm.

Time to put out a bat house, I think. They need all the help they can get . . .


*personally, I suspect the extreme stress commercial honeybee colonies are under these days, and the profoundly unnatural way of life they experience by being fed on corn syrup and constantly trucked crosscountry from crop to crop, as the key underlying factor.


Pax said...

I'm a bat "fan" also & think anytime a species begins disappearing, we'd be foolish not to be concerned.

If you'll forgive me, you got my attention with your reference to Monticello. At first I thought little of it, because I believe there are quite a few towns by that name around. Then I saw a mention of your father living in Hope, Arkansas in the 1930's(in "Mr. Baggins") and realized that your post might have been indicating Monticello, Arkansas where my mother's family lived. My grandfather was A.H. Boyd & he taught at Arkansas A&M. They last lived on W. Trotter Ave, (I believe it was.) Please forgive me for getting so completely off your topic, but your remark of Monticello brought up some very pleasant memories.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Pax. Thanks for the comment.

Yes, although I was born in Texarkana my first memories are from Monticello, Arkansas, where we lived from the time I was two until I was six. I went to kindergarden there, moving to Magnolia the summer before I started first grade. The Boyds were our next door neighbors on one side, with the Carruthers on our other side; the Langleys were on the far side of the Boyds and the Clays next to them. I never knew that the Boyds had children; if so, they must have been grown up and gone by the time I can remember. What I do recall was their fenced-in back yard and the dogs. After all this time I don't remember whether the two little dogs (chihuahuas?) who barked a lot or the two big dogs who tried to bit my fingers if I stuck them through the fence came first; I'll have to check with my sister next time I'm home and see what she remembers. Since she's three years older, she probably remembers more than I do. But I'll never forget our house (the only one I've ever lived in that was haunted), nor the yard, nor the duck pond across the road. My father taught history at Arkansas A&M (now Univ. of Ark. -- Monticello) and in fact the first time I ever saw a bat was in his office, a little brown bat that'd gotten in which he caught, showed to me, and released (a good example I've been able to follow a few times now myself, particularly in two of the three times bats got in when we lived in the house in Delavan Wisconsin).

In any case, I'd be interested in hearing more about the Boyds, whom I have not seen since 1965. I don't think the street name was Trotter Avenue though, at least not at the time. I'll see if I can find a street map of the campus as it is now and orient myself; in my day, there was a row of houses (one of which we lived in) on the south side of campus facing the duck pond, with the football stadium on the right (east side) of the pond and the main campus on the north, beyond the fire bell.

For those non-natives, I suppose I shd point out that the town's name is pronounced mont-eh-cell-o, not 'monti-chello' as in Jefferson's home, just as El Dorado Arkansas is 'el-do-ray-do', not 'do-rah-do'. Some things you just have to pick up from the locals; just tonight a commentator on the Wisconsin primary made a gaff by referring to 'wah-kee-sha' country when it's actually pronounced wah-keh-shaw'. So it goes.

--JDR, waxing nostalgic.

Pax said...

Hi John,

It is truly a small world! The Boyds who lived next door to you were not my grandparents, but my mother knew of them & said she believes that he taught at the college also. My mother's family lived briefy on campus at Gates Hall for a time & also briefly at Horsfall (sic?) Hall. They moved to the house on W. Trotter around 1947. My grandfather would have been teaching at the time your father was there though. He started at the school in 1927 & didn't retire until sometime in the 70's. I do have some strong memories associated with that duck pond. We would stop off there with a loaf of bread on the way to pick up my grandfather from work. The ducks & geese were pretty aggressive. I suppose the fact that most of them were bigger than I was didn't help my outlook. As I grew older I enjoyed it more. I also seem to remember picking up pecans on the campus there.

I'm curious as to how your father was able to catch that first bat. I seem to remember from somewhere that turning off lights in your house & turning on your car headlights outside might be effective. Because bats are used to feeding on the bugs around streetlamps, perhaps?

You also intrigued me with the comment about your house in Monticello being haunted.

With sincere apologies to the bats for diverting this topic away from their cause....