Aug 24 2013

Necessary Nuisance

Melissa Crytzer Fry

The first few times it happened in 2008, it was a mystery. We’d awake to the hummingbird feeder completely drained each morning, nectar splashed against the window.

So we set up our Cudde camera. And what we suspected was true:

Yep. Bats (with long tongues that CAN get down into the tiny hummingbird feeder holes). Who knew that nectar-eating bats existed?

Like clockwork they arrive in our yard each year — around late July or early August — before heading to Mexico for the winter.

Caught in the act. This lesser long-nosed bat, affectionately known as a "lepto," feeds at a backyard Tucson feeder. Photo by Ted Fleming. Click to enlarge.

This is another telltale sign of their arrival:

Yes, that’s bat guano, which leaves permanent stains on our light-colored concrete. I’m sure you don’t want to click to enlarge.

Meet the backyard bandits, thieves of our hummingbird nectar. They’re the migratory bats of southern Arizona: the Mexican long-tongued and the lesser long-nosed, the latter an endangered critter due to the annihilation of its food source: blooming columnar desert cacti and agave (homes and shopping malls have cropped up in their place).

These bats “are thought to follow the sequential blooming of certain flowers from south to north” as they migrate. But they’ve also adapted; when plant nectar isn’t available, they seek our backyard feeders, traveling sometimes 25 miles one-way.

Photo by Ted Fleming. Click to enlarge.

At the first sign of bats this year, I decided I should coerce hubby into an adventure: under the cover of darkness, we would photograph our visitors. Because there was so much guano, I figured I’d see dozens of them hanging eerily from the rafters.

With flashlights – and scanning for rattlers during our 10:30 p.m. trek – we went to the largest, most poop-infested porch first. And there they were! But only three. And they weren’t hanging upside down. They were “hugging” the rafters. The minute we shined the lights on them, they screeched and dive-bombed away (thank goodness I was wearing hubby’s ball cap. I didn’t want bats accidentally flying into my hair).

Needless to say, I captured zero photos. But fortunately, biology professor and coordinator of The Bats and Hummingbird Feeders Study, Ted Fleming, shared all of these wonderful images.

Another lovely lepto, courtesy of Ted Fleming. Click to enlarge.

Yes, these leptos of ours (or maybe they are long-tongued bats?) are a bit of a nuisance with their droppings, making us wish we had chosen a dark-colored stain for our concrete patios.

But here’s why I’m willing to forgive the guano transgressions: we need these bats. They’re pollinators – and rare (There are only three U.S. species of nectar-foraging bats). The majority of the coutnry’s bats are insect catchers – specifically mosquito-eating machines, some gulping up to 1,000 in an hour. And as I mentioned: leptos are endangered. For obvious reasons, I dare not think what life would be like without our pollinators and insect eaters.

So for now, these leptos and me: we’ll co-exist, and I’ll clean bat poop every year (and consider moving the hummer feeder further away from the house).

And I’ll also do something else… I’ll help researchers like Ted (photographer, above) better understand them. I’m  going to participate in a hummingbird-feeder monitoring study of the lesser long-nosed bat, aimed at better understanding its feeding and migratory habits. I’m SO excited!

For Writers: What parts of the writing process do you consider a nuisance – but know are vitally important to preserving the life of your story? Fact checking? Editing? Revision? Research?

For Readers: Do you find any ‘necessary nuisances’ in the books you read, or just plain straight-out nuisances? The obligatory love interest? The cliffhanger that goes nowhere? Melodrama? Shallow characters? What drives you batty?


31 Responses to “Necessary Nuisance”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Wow, those photos are AMAZING. As you know, I’m not a bat fan (to be near them) and have had my own family experiences with bats lately. BUT not only does my husband think bats are the coolest animal on earth (and he would’ve jumped at the chance to explore, haha) but I know how necessary they are so I like them well enough, as long as they aren’t too near me!

    As for my fiction, I have to say that the final final stages of editing — going over the manuscript “the last time” (is there ever a last time) is the part I’d most like to dispense with.

    Great post, can’t wait to share with MEH 🙂

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    Jessica Vealitzek Reply:

    Julia, I’m about to go over mine for the final final last time. I’ve had it for a week and still haven’t started. It’s my goal this weekend.

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    Julia Munroe Martin Reply:

    It’s hard but necessary and so rewarding when you’re done. You’re so close, yay!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, Jess… this is exciting news (though, like you, I’d be procrastinating — or, really, giving myself the necessary ‘time away’ so I could approach with ‘fresher’ eyes. That’s not considered procrastination, is it?)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh… yes… that “Final” time. By that point, the words seem to blur together, don’t they? Tell MEH, he should plan a trip out next July, and we’ll go bat hunting! 😉 I’m amazed that they will go back up into the mountains or mine shafts at night – a 50 mile round trip sometimes! I hope they put transmitters on our bats so that they can tell exactly where they go!

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  • avatar Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    Fantastic! I love stories of coexistence. And I can’t wait to hear what you learn. We had bats in our house for 5 straight years so I got to learn a lot about them, and I think that makes it easier to coexist. But we had to get rid of them, of course, because they were actually inside and one year a bat tested positive for rabies. Believe it or not I was actually a bit sad when the animal control company finally found the bat entrance and closed it up because I had learned bats use the same nesting site for generations–years and years.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I read your bat post back when you first wrote it (and thought of you while I was writing, actually).

    The rabies thing is very scary! I can totally understand why you’d have been a bit sad to see them go. I didn’t know they used the same sites for hundreds of years… that’s fascinating and, yes, a bit sad to think they’ll have to find a new home.

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    I’m always a bit worried about bats accidentally dive-bombing into my hair (they don’t do it on purpose, do they?) but they’re so fascinating. I’d love to see the evening “show” at the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin sometime, but those are the insect eating kind, not the nectar foraging type. I’ll be looking up info on the study you’re joining. I don’t know if we have that kind of bat here, but I’m interested in following the study… we have to save our pollinators to save ourselves.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’ve been reading, and it’s actually a fallacy that they dive-bomb. Most times, they are going after bugs (using their radar) and may just get a bit too close to our heads. (I’ve had far too many near-hair misses, though!)

    Ohhh… The Congress Ave. show sounds fabulous. Let me know if you find out if you guys have the nectar guys! Ahh… yes. “Save our pollinators to save ourselves.” People have NO idea how serious the bee colony decline is … and how vital bees are to every form of life.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    And while “lepto” is their common name, I think a more fitting name for these bats would be CLEPTO — for stealing from the hummingbirds!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha. There you go, analyzing those words again! I LOVE it. Cleptos. 😉

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    Great detecting Melissa! Your video is exhibit A as to why I am not a bat person! At the same time I find them fascinating. I’m not sure which is weirder — them or me. Congrats on being a part of the study.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m right there with you, Linda. Not a fan of bats swooping and diving, but TOTALLY fascinated by them. In fact, my dad has a bat house in Pennsylvania, and I got to see his bats fly out, one at a time, from his bat house. We counted 21 of them, and it was great fun! I’m so excited to be part of the study.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    What fantastic shots, Melissa! Makes me want to set one up for my feeder, too. And big congratulations on your study! 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Do you get nectar-feeding bats in TN, too? How cool!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    What fun to participate in the study!! I’ve never understood whey some people are frightened of bats (other than getting them in our hair, ofcourse – which would be disturbing). They are so remarkable. Moving the feeders away from the house sounds like the perfect solution to the guano problem.
    Revision and editing are the worst, by far. Trying to get that novel to the point of being well and truly ready.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think fear of bats may emanate from how darn scary looking they are. And while the experts say they don’t truly aim for the hair, it seems like their swooping is always a bit too close for my comfort. I read that they get close to us because we attract mosquitoes (for the bug-eaters), and they’re simply hunting around our heads/bodies. Hmm….

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    How cool! I love that you’re going to help with a study! We used to have a bat house in our yard when I was a kid, but I never got to see them up close like you.

    And as for writing… I find continuity checks to be a nuisance. Did the character have this item in the last chapter, or did she set it down? Stuff like that can drive me crazy!

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    Melissa Reply:

    You should put up your own bat house, given how much you like the spooky thing :-).

    Oh YES… how could I forget the continuity checks. Maddening! (For me, it’s the issue of keeping track of time/months, as well).

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    We forget how important they are. They creep me out but they are also mysterious and interesting. I remember sleeping with my tennis racquet next to my bed because bats always managed to get into the house. We always had to worry about rabies so that scared a person more than anything.

    The writing process that is a nuisance – the initial sitting my butt in the chair and quieting my mind. It’s the hardest part for me. If I could just sit and write and boom it would come, that would be great. My mind, however, has different ideas.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Well, as fond as I am of bats and their vital role, I’m not sure I’d want to share my room with one! Eeks.

    I agree with you: getting into that writing mindset can be so, so difficult… especially when you’ve been away from it for awhile.

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    Anything that eats 1,000 mosquitoes an hour is a friend of mine! 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    No kidding. I seem to be a mosquito magnet, while others are unaffected. Bring on the bats!

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  • avatar Lori P Says:

    Okay, I’m pretty sure if you saw my face while reading this, you’d have left your own guano on the patio from laughter. Bats? Ummm, no. Seeking out bats? Especially no. Needing a flashlight “in case” of rattlers? H-E-Double Hockey Sticks NO. Though I do tip my cap to the bats’ appetite for mosquitos.

    What was the question? Oh, nuisance. Keeping track of details. Why can’t I remember my flash of inspiration from four weeks ago? Arg!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha. You never cease to crack me UP! But, re: writing nuisances, I agree that keeping track of those little details – What month did I have her reveal this or do that? Which horse was she riding back then? – are a bit trying at times! No one tells aspiring authors how MUCH goes into writing a novel, you know? And I suspect many readers have no clue, either. But we love it and keep coming back for more, strangely enough. Must be the challenge we relish.

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    How exciting that you’ll be contributing to the study! That sounds like the perfect thing for you, since you love observing nature so much; it must be wonderful to have your observations help better understand the bats!

    And I agree that some parts of the writing process are a necessary nuisance. My biggest nuisance is the cycle of doubt and fear. It happens every time I start a new project, and I always know, logically, that I’ll get through it as long as I keep writing, because that’s how it works. But emotionally, I become a bit of a wreck.

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    Melissa Reply:

    OH my… Yes, not to be overlooked: the never-ending cycle of doubt and fear… It’s all about keeping the faith, as you say, that we’ll figure it out “somehow.”

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    I keep running into the best friend side kick in books AND in romantic comedies. It’s getting tiresome!

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    Melissa Reply:

    That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it – since one of your main areas of interest in your own essay writing is friendship!

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    Nina Reply:

    Ha! That’s fair! 😉

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer (@Hallie_Sawyer) Says:

    Bat guano! It has become a nuisance for us, too! We just realized that we have a bat hanging under our covered patio at night and he leaves us a pile of guano in the morning. Totally grody. He showed up about a month ago and I do have a hummingbird feeder but I realize that I didn’t put mine up until after the guano began appearing on the patio. However, I’m sure it’s what is keeping him around! We have a green space next to us and we see bats flying around at dusk which we welcome the bug control. But how do I get him to relocate his nesting spot? Hmm, might have to take down the hummingbird feeder for a bit to see what happens.

    As far as writing goes, my biggest nuisance typing in the words I handwrite. The bonus is that as I type, I edit. 🙂

    As a reader, I get annoyed when authors head hop without making a break in the scene or starting a new chapter. I think this is the writer’s curse though, finding all the things in books we aren’t supposed to do. Another nuisance. Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a pre-writing reader. 🙂

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