• 64°

Turtle Point goes batty: Science center chosen for nation's fourth bat house

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP – Managing Editor
Things will be getting a bit 'batty' around the Turtle Point Science Center soon - at least that is what Shirley West is hoping.
West, director of the Escambia County environmental education center in Flomaton, hosted elementary-aged students from across the county Wednesday to help the center celebrate the opening of the Haines Bat House. The house is the fourth of its kind to be opened in the U.S. There are two houses in Florida and one in Washington.
The house can host up to 100,000 bats. Officials believe that the center's proximity to flying insects, which relish in the nearby wetlands, will make it a perfect destination for many of Alabama's native bat species.
While the bats are expected to make dusk hours more interesting around the center, it may take some time for bats to move in. To help attract the bats to the house, guano, or bat droppings, was placed in the house to attract them.
The bat house is about eight feet long, four feet tall and four feet wide. The house is open on the bottom to allow bats access to an intricate design of dividers covered with a netting. The house stands about 15 feet off the ground. Its cost of $3,495 was funded through grants from Legacy Partners in Environmental Education and Bat Conservation International.
West said bringing the bat house to Turtle Point is part of the center's ongoing commitment to teach students, and adults, about local
wildlife and the environment. She said bats are often misunderstood and that folklore is often considered fact when dealing with the nocturnal mammals.
Among the most common misconceptions regarding bats is that they are carriers of rabies.
Students from across the county visited Turtle Point Wednesday and learned about bats and met Marvin, a brown bat owned by the State Lands Division. Biologist Jo Lewis was one of the special speakers during the Batfest, teaching students about bat habitats and their eating habits.
Students also learned about the role bats play in the balance of Escambia County's environment and that the balance is currently being threatened.
Another guest was Troy Best, professor of biological science at Auburn University and author of "Alabama's Bats." Each student who visited the center received a free copy of the book. He also provided the guano that will be placed in the house to attract bats.
The Batfest was sponsored by Legacy, which is funded through the purchase of environmental license plates, and Pepsi.
Bats are already common to Escambia County. It is a possibility that the protected Southeastern bat, which is thriving in a county cave and is the only maternal colony known, will move into the new house where they can continue their comeback.
Officials are hopeful that some bats will move in by next spring. But, it will likely be several years before the house sees a lot of habitation. West said when the bats do come, it will be quite a show.