D.C. has just declared the brown bat to be its official mammal. Under home rule, Congress still has 30 days to approve it, but we fully expect to be celebrating our new state mammal soon.
This story was drafted by Karen Ramsey, our friend and co-editor, before her recent death. It, along with so much else of her photography, illustrates her curiosity about so many parts of D.C.
Washington, D.C. has four species of cave bats (big brown, little brown, tricolored, and northern long ear) and four species of tree bats (eastern red, hoary, silver-haired and evening) that call D.C. home during a part of their migratory year. D.C. named the little brown bag as the state mammal, but where can you go to see bats up close and personal? While you may see them fly overhead at night in your neighborhood park or yard or see them in an exhibit at the National Zoo or Natural History museum, Kingman Island in D.C. is the place to go to see them up close.
The D.C. Department of Energy and Environment’s (DOEE) wildlife biologists partner with Living Classrooms to conduct bat research on Kingman and Heritage Islands. In recent years they have conducted bat walks with the community in the early evening to share information on bat biology and habits including navigation, feeding, and predator avoidance.
Armed with electronic bat detectors it is possible to hear how bats use ultrasonic calls and echolocation to communicate, locate insects, and navigate. From the calls being recorded as the bats swoop overhead it is also possible to tell which bat species is present.
Wildlife biologists also use mist nets that are set up across a path and, if lucky enough, one can see the bats up close if any fly into the net during the walk. Once a bat has flown into the mist net, the researchers quickly work to weigh and measure it; look for evidence of white nose, a disease that has been decimating populations of bats worldwide; and tag the bat for release.
The white nose syndrome that researchers look for is a fast-spreading fungus that strikes little brown bats particularly hard and during their hibernation period. It manifests as white fuzz on the bats nose and with white spots on the wings. It is a flesh eating fungus that can be fatal to bats as they hibernate and it is projected that the little brown bat may be extinct by 2026 as a result of the fast spreading fungus. While that sounds frightening the fungus does not cross over to humans and bats provide a host of benefits to the environment. Insects, up to 1,200 of them per bat per night, are the main source of food and mosquitos are a delicacy which can help reduce populations of the biting insects. That is one benefit that we can all appreciate!
The selection of the little brown bat as the official state mammal began with several Girl Scout troops lobbying the Council of D.C. after they learned of the importance of the bat to D.C.’s ecosystem and the fungus that is endangering them. Here’s the bill that has been enacted.
All photographs ©Karen Ramsey