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April 12, 2005
CONTACT: Carol Anderson 734.487.4400

Greatest threat to bats is lack of information, says EMU expert

YPSILANTI - Spring has arrived and along with those warm, humid nights come mosquitoes and other flying pests looking for humans to bother and bite. But our "furry friends" are out there ready to help.

They aren't dogs or cats, but bats. The flying mammals are the number one predator of nocturnal insects, said Allen Kurta, Eastern Michigan University professor of biology and one of the leading authorities on bat biology in the world.

"Bats consume hundreds of insects every night including many crop pests and other insects harmful to humans. When producing milk for their young, female bats may eat more than their own weight in insects every day," said Kurta, a resident of Chelsea.

Viewed by many as frightening creatures of the night, bats are actually very misunderstood, said Kurta.

Bats are not blind, not aggressive creatures and do not fly into a person's hair, he said, citing the lack of information about bats as one of their greatest threats.

But Kurta said people's attitudes are slowly changing. He used to get people calling asking how to kill or get rid of bats. Now about half the people want information on bats or bat houses.

Bats also help regenerate forests by dispersing seeds in their droppings and pollinating flowers.

Bats have been a 30-year source of fascination and research for Kurta, who was honored recently with EMU's Ronald W. Collins Distinguished Faculty Research Award. He was cited for the scholarly and creative activity of his extensive research on bats.

"It's an honor to receive this award that emphasizes my career," said Kurta.

The Ronald W. Collins Distinguished Faculty Awards are the most prestigious awards that a faculty member can receive from Eastern Michigan University.

His current research focuses on the ecology and behavior of bats, particularly the endangered, tree-roosting Indiana bat.

"The Indiana bat is the only mammal that breeds in Michigan that is on the federal list of endangered species," said Kurta.

It's endangered due to problems with their habitat, he said. Beginning in the 1960s and '70s, people were disturbing the caves in Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri where bats hibernate during the winter.

Those winter sites are now protected, but there is still a decline in the number of bats and more information is needed on habitat requirements. To collect more data, Kurta has fitted 20 Indiana bats with radio transmitters that will track the bats for 7-14 days before falling off.

"Every bat is a piece to the puzzle," he said.

Kurta also is looking for bats in abandon mines in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and recently traveled to Iron Mountain with a group of students.

"Most students will never have the opportunity to see any hibernating animal let alone 15,000 hibernating bats," he said.

And in the future, Kurta said, "I'll be going back up (to the Upper Peninsula) to explore new mines, looking for significant populations of hibernating bats that might need protection."

Kurta also has a number of projects involving bats in Puerto Rico. His newest co-authored publication is "Bats of Puerto Rico: an Island Focus and a Caribbean Perspective," which is due out in July.

Kurta has more than 50 scientific publications, including five books, and has published a peer-reviewed paper almost every year since 1979.

He was associate editor of the Journal of Mammalogy, the premiere journal in his field, and feature editor of Bat Research News.

Kurta has a bachelor's and master's degree in zoology from Michigan State University and a doctorate in biology from Boston University.

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.


Editor's Note : Allen Kurta is available for interviews at 734.487. 1174. Other Eastern Experts are at http://www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts/

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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