By Jess Scanlon
Above the Kroner Lot, a bat flies into a small dark box posted above a “No Freshman Parking” sign after a long night of hunting bugs.
Bat houses are small structures that provide a safe haven for the animals during daytime hours. They are made of very rough pieces of wood so the bats can cling to them, and they must maintain an interior temperature of over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. These flying mammals commonly reside in caves, abandoned mines and tunnels or sometimes even in the attics of residential homes, according to the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW).
“The best way to attract bats to a new bat house is to smear it with bat guano, or defecation,” said Dr. Laura Hyatt, associate professor of biology.
There are nine species of bats that reside in the state, according to the NJDFW. One species, the Indiana bat, is endangered and is therefore protected by both state and federal laws. All species in the state are insectivores with large appetites for moths. Only two are likely to attempt to roost in a building: the little brown and big brown bat, according to the Web site of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). However, usually the only sign of the bats’ presence is their droppings as they do not bother the residents of the home, preferring to avoid contact with humans.
“Bats aren’t interested in bothering people,” said Rose Unes, adjunct professor of communcation. “They just want to eat a lot of insects.”
It is unknown if any bats currently live in the bat house at Rider. According to HSUS, it is late in their season, and they will leave before the start of winter for their winter roosts. It can take up to two years for bats to move in. Bat watches, starting about a half-hour before sunset, are a common way to detect their presence.
“Many bats tend to roost during the day, hanging upside down, in little groups,” Hyatt said. “They do hibernate in cold weather.”
Students should not worry as the mammals are nocturnal and less than 1 percent of bats are rabid. According to HSUS, bats are “non-aggressive” and “will only bite in self-defense.”
Despite their appearance and the nickname “flying rats,” bats are not rodents. Many experts think that bats are more closely related to primates. They are the only mammals capable of flight. The little brown bat, a species native to the area, is also capable of living more than 30 years.
However, the bat population is now declining from a mysterious illness.
“Lately, there’s a white-nose syndrome that has been killing bats by the thousands, taking out huge colonies,” Hyatt said. “Scientists don’t know what is causing it.”
This syndrome has killed more than one million bats on the East Coast since 2007. The disease has hit New Jersey’s bat population particularly hard, with 95 percent of the population currently unaccounted for as of last May.
The largest known population lives in a hibernaculum, a bat community, in the abandoned Hibernia Mine in Rockaway Township, Morris County. Its May 2009 population was about 750, a dramatic reduction from the over 25,000 bats that normally roost there.
Around sunset in the Kroner Lot, there is the possibility of sighting a bat or two leaving their own “dorm.”