|Portrait by Elizabeth Lavin|
Bats don’t suck your blood, but they do eat your pests and pollinate your flowers. Local superhero of bat conservation, Wayne Peplinski, debunks the myths surrounding these fascinating creatures.
Wayne Peplinski might be the Bruce Wayne of North Texas. His work as the director of Bat World Trinity River in Fort Worth is fraught with peril and adventure. He has been bitten by bats several thousand times, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has asked for a sample of his blood, believing that he may have developed a rare immunity. He’s been forced to the floor of a cave several miles underground as approximately 10,000 winged denizens of the night roared overhead, covering him in guano and urine. And he’s loved every minute of it.
Peplinski knows what you’re thinking: He’s crazy. Bats are scary. Bats will give you rabies just by breathing on you. He’s heard it all. “People have a lot of misconceptions about bats; they’re terrified of them,” he says. “But the truth is, less than one half of one percent of bats carry rabies, and none of the bats in our area want to have anything to do with humans. They eat our pests and pollinate our plants; they’re really very beneficial to man.”
|Photography by Getty|
As director of one of 19 rescue centers associated with the Bat World Sanctuary (BWS) headquartered in Mineral Wells, he has become one of the leading authorities on bat rescue and rehabilitation. The sanctuary even took pains to acquire an old boarding house downtown. More than 100 years old, the building is home to some 50,000 Mexican free tail bats, which have inhabited the location since the early ’80s.
When not rehabilitating his brood of bats, Peplinski fields requests for help from people whose homes or businesses have been invaded by the creatures. “We got a call from the mint in Fort Worth,” Peplinski recalls. “They said they had a bat in their warehouse and needed to have it removed. It was a warehouse of money! I had to trap and rescue the bat while being escorted by two armed guards the whole time. I’ve never seen so much money in my life.” As Halloween nears, Peplinski braces for the annual flood of calls, when the sanctuary and its satellites are bombarded with bat questions and other requests. People’s fascination with bats peaks around Halloween each year, but Peplinski anticipates summer, when he sees the results of the year’s hard work.
“The best time of the year—every year—is the end of orphan season in July or August when I release the orphans that were abandoned and would have died had we not helped them. I release them back into the world they know—it’s very satisfying.”
|Photography by Getty|
Attracting Bats to Your Backyard
Like them or not, bats are already in your backyard, eating night-flying insects and pests, including mosquitoes, and pollinating flowers. By placing bat houses in your yard, you’ll only attract more of these beneficial animals. The houses must meet certain criteria to attract bats. Bat Conservation International’s web site, www.batcon.org, can direct you to certified manufacturers. When you’re ready to get started, keep these guidelines in mind:
Every bat house should have chambers (or slots) about three-quarters of an inch wide.
In North Texas, bat houses should be painted a light or medium color.
A bat house needs approximately 10 hours of direct sunlight each day to keep the bats warm.
Keep it out in the open. The bat house should be about 15 feet off the ground and 15 feet from the nearest tree.
The house should have a north-south orientation if possible.
Bats can fly in complete darkness. By using echolocation (similar to sonar), bats can fly precise routes, even in the dead of night.
Bats are the official flying mammal of Texas. An easy choice—they’re the only flying mammal in the world.
Nectar-feeding bats are the only natural pollinator of the agave plant, which gives us tequila. As the bat population has decreased, tequila makers have resorted to manual pollination of the agave, which has led to higher tequila prices.
Bats don’t drink human blood. (Most bats feed on fruit, insects, or pollen. The few that do drink blood usually attack small animals and are native to South America.
Bat World Sanctuary
Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells rehabilitates several hundred bats a year. Tours are available by appointment—school groups are welcome. Cap off the day by watching thousands of bats escape into the night from an old boarding house located a block from the sanctuary. Bat World Sanctuary. 217 N. Oak Ave., Mineral Wells. 940-325-3404. www.batworld.org.
Look out for these common Dallas bats:
Mexican free tail bats
Little brown bats
(yes, that’s their official name)