Bats are cool |

Bats are cool

Most of Valerie Mansfield’s fifth-graders were afraid of bats when they came to Sierra House Elementary School Tuesday morning.

But by afternoon, the students’ fears were replaced with knowledge.

“Will anybody ever be afraid of a bat again,” asked bat educator Patricia Winters after she finished a bat show-and-tell.

With a resounding “no” bouncing off the portable walls of the hot school room, students nearly burst from their seats to touch the nocturnal animals.

“Bats are pretty cool,” said fifth-grade student Chris Eidam. “I learned a lot.”

Winters visited five South Shore elementary schools this week to educate students on the ecological importance of bats and how harmless they are to humans.

“We demonize bats in our culture,” Winters said. “How can we help these animals if we demonize them?”

Winters has lectured to nearly 60,000 classrooms in the 15 years she’s been an educator. Her 15 school bats can’t exist in the wild due to injury or old age, so she keeps them healthy in her home in Novato, Calif.

With 40 years of bat experience and wildlife training, Winters entertains while she educates the children, showing her hoary bat named Cream Puff and her pallid named Wolfman Jack.

Cream Puff is the second largest bat in the country, with wings spanning 17 inches. With razor sharp claws, thick fur and echo location three times more sensitive than NASA sonar, Cream Puff earns her own keep.

The black and white bat picks up extra money in the summer, appearing on television shows and posing for photos. Cream Puff’s most recent gig was the “X-Files.”

Winters said because bats consume mostly insects, the legend of their sucking humans’ blood is strictly myth.

“What do you think they’re going to do? Grab you by the neck, knock you down and kick you in the leg,” Winters asked the giggling fifth-graders.

She said the reason some bats fly close to humans is because they want to eat female mosquitoes that swarm people.

Although bats aren’t the blood-sucking beasts of folklore, Winters is vaccinated for rabies every two years. However, she said only one person a year dies of bat-related rabies.

Winters’ educational visits to South Shore are organized by U.S. Forest Service Visitors Center Director Mike St. Michel.

Mansfield said she hopes to have Winters back again next year to add to Mansfield’s wildlife conservation curriculum.

“Bats are incredibly important for the balance of our ecology, so it’s really important for the kids to educate their friends,” Mansfield said. “This is good that they got the information and they’re not afraid of the bats.”

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