PALESTINE, Texas (May 25, 2016) – Recently, naturalists met with the City of Palestine to discuss help to an overlooked segment of the city’s population – bats.
Naturalists with the East Texas Chapter of Master Naturalists, along with representatives of Bat World, a nonprofit bat advisory group, met and toured Palestine’s downtown with members of the Historic Landmarks Commission, Main Street Advisory Board, and city staff. The purpose of the tour was to determine ways to move Palestine’s bat population to a safe environment away from downtown buildings.
“We want to continue our mission of preserving Palestine’s unique and rich history,” Historic Preservation Officer Jacob Morris said. “We also want to be environmentally responsible stewards to our native bat population.”
During the meeting on Saturday, May 21, Kate Rugroden, Director of Special Projects with Bat World, gave a presentation on the benefits of bats. Bats, especially the Mexican free-tailed bat common to Texas, help in the development of agriculture and pest and disease control.
The bats’ main diet is insects, and the bats especially like to dine on mosquitos. According to Rugroden, a bat will eat thousands of mosquitos during its 30-year lifespan. Bats are also habitual and will return to the place of its birth. Throughout the years and continuing presently, several buildings in downtown Palestine house bat colonies.
Rugroden also dispelled many of the myths about bats, including the myth they are rodents (they aren’t), they are blind (they can see), and they’re not vampires (there are three species of vampire bats in Latin America). Also, bats are as prone to rabies the same as other mammals, dispelling the myth that all bats carry rabies. Still, one should not pick up a grounded bat with bare hands.
The Palestine Economic Development Corporation is offering owners and developers grants up to $25,000, to help move the bats. Moving the bats will eliminate a very common bat-related problem, the buildup of bat dung, more commonly known as guano. According to Rugroden, guano itself produces little odor, but the odor emanates from years of guano deposits near moist masonry.
During a tour of Main Street, bat lovers and naturalists explored areas of the city that can be used to attract bats in the future. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has also expressed interest in the city’s efforts to help the bat population.
Like the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, engineering has a way of creating a habitat that will keep bats in one place. The Congress Avenue Bridge is the largest urban bat colony in North America, according to Bat Conservation International.
According to Morris, both boards are discussing small steps for the bat population, including building a small bat house later this year. The bat house will be present before the bats migrate further south in the fall and winter.
For more information about bats and bat preservation, visit Bat World at www.batworld.org, or Bat Conservation International at www.batcon.org. For more information on historic preservation in Palestine, click here. The Palestine Economic Development Corporation is accepting applications for the bat exclusion grants. Also, PEDC is offering $50,000 in grants for asbestos removal.