Meet the Bats Night
Give wings to your imagination and picture yourself as a bat for a minute.
You're out at night, cruising for dinner and drinks with a few thousand friends, and all of a sudden you find yourself trapped in some kind of web. An enormous creature, some alien thing many thousands of times bigger than you, seizes you with its hands and seals you in a white bag.
Then you are pulled out of the bag and put under blinding bright lights, twisted this way and that by those gigantic hands. All this time, you have been screaming but the giants act like they can't even hear you.
Finally, you are released unharmed.
And that's Meet the Bats Night from a bat's point of view - an alien abduction. For the humans it was much more fun.
Division of Wildlife Resources biologists and technicians hosted the event for about 20 visitors Friday night at the Nash Wash Wildlife Management Area north of Cisco.
Every third year, DWR takes a survey of the bat population at 65 sites across the state. According to Sensitive Species Biologist Tony Wright, Utah is home to 17 species of the flying mammals. Friday's survey netted six species for a total of 46 bats.
The little flyers are trapped in a mist net, a fine-stranded mesh that is hung like a volleyball net over a pond. Bats have to drink and a pond in drought times is a strong attractor for them.
Once a bat is snagged, a researcher wades over and gently removes it and places it in a little white bag.
A tug on a drawstring closes the bag.
Next stop for the captives is the examination table. Wildlife technician Lisa Horzpa first hangs the bag by the drawstring from a sensitive spring scale.
It has to be sensitive because these little guys weigh in at about five grams up to 20 grams. That's two pennies to eight pennies of body weight.
Horzpa calls out the weight out and a volunteer writes it down on a clip board.
Then it is time to take the delicate little creature out of the bag for an exam. Their forearm and ear length is measured with a ruler.
Then a wing is extended and backlit with a flashlight. Kids are glad to help with the flashlighting. The wing skin, called a patagium, is so filmy it is translucent.
The backlighting gives something like an x-ray or MRI view of the bone structure of the wing. The bones look like a distorted hand, and that's what they are. The order of bats, chiroptera, means "hand wing" in Greek.
The bones of adults are more fully developed that juveniles or sub-adults, Horzpa explains to the group of onlookers. It gives an idea of a bat's age.
She and Wright also examine the wings for damage.
Each bat also gets once-over inspection to determine its gender and, for females, to check if they are lactating.
At the end of the exam, each bat is marked with a red streak on the back from a felt-tip marker. "You don't want to check the same bat twice," Horzpa explains.
Through the evening, researchers respond to questions from members of the crowd. It's a good way to dispel some of the falsehoods that have given bats a bad rap over the ages.
For starters, they don't make a point of getting tangled up in women's hair.
Not all bats have rabies. A small percentage have the disease, but Wright explains that ones flying around probably don't have the disease.