Park ranger goes to bat for bats


Did you know there are 15 different species of bats in Sequoia National Park? This bat fact, among others, was shared with a captivated crowd of adults and children on Thursday, Nov. 13, at Three Rivers Library. 

In an effort to shed light on the useful role of bats in not only the local ecosystem, but the world’s, Lynne Firpo of Three Rivers, an interpretive ranger at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, gave an insightful presentation that was all about bats. Bat myths were debunked and youngsters intrigued as all learned a valuable lesson on these interesting creatures.

“Bats get a bad bat-rap,” Firpo said. 

She clarified that she is not a bat expert, but just a ranger with a mission: to stop the misunderstandings associated with bats. Firpo wants to make clear that there is no reason to be afraid of bats, as they are harmless and incredibly beneficial to humans. 

She explained to her audience that, in fact, bats are mammals and have a bone structure much like humans (they even have the same amount of “fingers” as humans).

“Insectivore bats, like the kind we have here in Three Rivers, eat 1,000 to 3,000 bugs per night,” said Firpo. 

Needless to say, this makes a huge impact in not only keeping the bug population under control, but also has many indirect side effects. 

“The effects of bats are worth about $4 million annually in savings for the farming industry,” Firpo said. 

Bats not only eat bugs that damage crops, but work to spread pollen, much like bees.

And will bats fly into your hair? 

“Never,” she said. “With their advanced echolocation, bats will never make the mistake of flying into your hair — they catch bugs using sound in the dark! They don’t want to be around people.”

Not only will local bats keep down the insect population, but their guano — yes, their poop — is an incredibly valuable source of fertilizer for gardens. Keeping bats around isn’t such a bad idea after all, and Firpo herself knows a few things about housing bats. 

“I found bats in the garage of my house,” Firpo said. “My initial reaction was ‘ew!’ but after I learned a few things about them, I really want to keep them around.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. population of bats is currently under threat. Currently contained to the eastern part of the country, there is a disease that is wiping out bats by the millions. White Nose Syndrome is a fungus that kills bats by waking them up prematurely from hibernation, where they then fly out into the snow, use up their reserves of energy, and perish. 

“It is quickly spreading across North America,” Firpo warned. 

In order to combat its spread here, there is a disinfecting mat at the entrance to Crystal Cave in Sequoia, and all the cave’s visitors receive an informational talk on White Nose Syndrome before they can even buy their tour tickets.

Not only do humans need to recognize the valuable role bats play in the ecosystem, but everyone should be aware of how to prevent the spread of this devastating disease, for instance, by not going into multiple caves without the proper precautions. 

And with the dedicated work of people like Lynne Firpo, Kaweah Country bats will have a chance.

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