In Defense of Maine’s Leather-winged Friends
What do the following words have in common?
Eastern pipistrelle, eastern small-footed myotis, northern myotis, big brown, little brown myotis, eastern red, hoary, silver-haired, Bruce Wayne and Louisville Slugger.
That’s right, they’re all names you wouldn’t give to your newborn child.
Also, they’re all species of bats found in Maine.
I mention the bat connection not because I’m fond of bats (although I am), but because some of these night-flying creatures face a hideous threat:
Others may find themselves sheared off at the handle by a Josh Beckett inside fastball.
And the unfortunate hoary bat is going have to endure endless lame comments about its name.
But today, I’m concerned only with the northern myotis (also known as the northern long-eared bat (another name that’s going to get it into fights in bat bars) and the little brown myotis (commonly called the little brown bat by people who have trouble pronouncing “myotis”). These two species face a hideous death as a result of something with an even stupider name than pipistrelle.
Researchers at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (motto: Dedicated To Preventing Fights In Bat Bars) announced this week that white-nose syndrome has been discovered in the state for the first time in two caves frequented by bats. Which seems odd. Not that bats frequent caves, but that this condition hasn’t been spotted before, given Maine’s overwhelmingly Caucasian population, a high percentage of whom have noses appropriate to their complexions.
Except for the heavy drinkers, who suffer from red-nose syndrome, which doesn’t affect bats, who tend to be moderate boozers.
The state also suffers from an occasional outbreak of brown-nose syndrome, particularly among middle managers, lawyers trying to make partner and newspaper columnists attempting to explain why George Mitchell quit trying to bring peace to the Middle East.
But back to bats. White-nose syndrome is actually a fungus, Geomyces destructans (Latin for “nostril goo”), that afflicts bats while they’re hibernating. In other states, it has resulted in millions of deaths and threatened to make some types of bat extinct. Scientists have only a limited understanding of what causes white-nose and have yet to find a cure.
In Maine, officials are taking the discovery of the fungus seriously, which is almost always the way officials take discoveries involving icky forms of plant life. This reaction is appropriate because bats are a vital part of the state’s eco-system.
For instance, little brown bats, the most common species, eat many annoying insects, such as mosquitoes and actors in car-insurance commercials. In addition, bats make up a majority of at least three legislative committees. And northern long-eared bats hear a lot of juicy gossip. Without them, we might never find out who’s sleeping with whom.
I suspect that many of you are now wondering what you can do to mitigate the impact of this impending crisis. You may be planning to knit little bat sweaters, or develop extra-long bat earmuffs, or send supplies of bottled water and disposable diapers to the nearest bat cave.
While these activities are all well-intentioned, they’re also counterproductive. Sweaters and earmuffs make it hard to fly and navigate by sonar. Bottled water is too thin for creatures that prefer blood, and diapers would cause havoc with the annual guano harvest.
Instead, experts advise avoiding bat caves altogether. Walking around in them might result in you spreading the fungus from one bat gathering spot to another. Also, don’t handle dead bats.
Because I know you were planning to.
If you find a dead bat, call the state fish and game folks at 287-8000 or email them through their website. You’ll be given instructions on how to arrange a bat funeral (for music, an excerpt from Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” is always appropriate, and you can make some little bat-shaped cupcakes).
The department also advises that you don’t eat the dead bat. Which is something that, left to your own devices, probably wouldn’t have occurred to you to do. But it did occur to some people. And once that sort of occurring occurs, the results, such as this recipe for fruit bat soup (using real fruit bats), inevitably end up on the Internet.
Fortunately, like the cupcakes mentioned above, most dishes with the words bat in their name are just being cute and don’t contain any actual animal.
White-nose syndrome isn’t the only unpleasant thing that might turn up in your neighborhood in the near future. There’s also Bruce Pearl.
Until last month, Pearl was the basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. He was fired for lying to NCAA investigators about recruiting violations. As punishment, he received a settlement of $950,000 from the school.
College sports is a vicious world.
Meanwhile, the Maine Red Claws, the NBA Development League franchise in Portland, have been looking for a coach, because Austin Ainge, who ran the team for its first two years, contracted white-nose syndrome and had to be euthanized.
Just kidding. People, even people involved in professional athletics, don’t get white-nose syndrome. Ainge is perfectly healthy and did not have to be put down. He’s just moved on to a top job with the parent Boston Celtics, where the fact that his father is the boss had absolutely nothing to do with him getting hired.
So, the Red Claws need a coach, and Pearl needs a job, which has lead to speculation that the two are talking about how the NCAA has no authority over the NBA-D League, so, while the Portland team might not be able to pay him as much as Tennessee, he could lie all he likes.
Stuff like that drives me, well … bats.
Al Diamon doesn’t have white-nose syndrome, but his nose is a little out-of-joint. He’s retreated to his cave for another week, where he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.