Posts Tagged ‘Rafinesque’s bat’

The Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)–Another Pleistocene Survivor

October 28, 2012

When I was about 10 years old, I woke up one night and heard something flying around my bedroom.  The creature kept clumsily hitting the walls and from the sound of leathery wings smacking into plaster I knew it was a bat and not a bird.  I walked down the hall to my parents bedroom.

“There’s a bat in my bedroom,” I told my mom.

My mom’s not a girly type of woman who freaks out at the sight of a bug, so her reaction really surprised me.  She later told me she thought I was dreaming, and she did not expect to actually see a bat.  But as soon as she turned on the hall light, a big bat, looking just like a prop from a vampire movie, came flying straight toward us.  My mom slammed her bedroom door in my face, and I ducked under the bat which proceeded to fly down the stairs.  A few minutes later, my mom opened the bedroom door a crack and told me to round up my sisters.  She wanted us to sleep in her room that night because she was afraid the bat might carry rabies.

My mom refused to cook breakfast the next morning.  We went to eat at IHOP instead.  My dad owned a private medical practice at the time, and  one of his patients was in the pest control business, so my dad sent him to our house to look for the bat.  He did examine the living room curtain, but evidentally didn’t see the roosting bat.  That night, we watched a war movie on television, and the explosions from World War II artillery awoke the bat.  The bat crawled down the curtain and started flying around the room.  My dad grabbed his tennis racquet, I opened the front door, and he backhanded the bat out the doorway.

Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus).  I believe this is the species that startled my mom into slamming her door in my face.

Based on my memory of its wingspan, I believe the bat that invaded our home on Hogarth Avenue in Niles, Ohio circa 1972 was a big brown bat.  They commonly crawl down chimneys and get inside houses.

There are  9 species of bats that range into Georgia today.  During the Pleistocene there were at least an additional 2 species.  The extinct Pleistocene vampire bat (Desmodus stocki) must have lived in what’s now Georgia then.  And prior to the Last Glacial Maximum, Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadadira brasiliensis) probably lived here as well, but this species has yet to recolonize its former range, since the climate has warmed following the end of the Ice Age.  Fossils dating to ~40,000 BP of this species have been excavated from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky which is far outside its present day range.  Fossil evidence of bats in Georgia is limited to cave dwelling species–gray myotises (Myotis grisescens), big brown bats, and pipistrelles (Pipistrellus subflavus).  The latter species has a wingspan of only 3 inches–a pipsqueak–and can be confused with a large moth when viewed from a distance.  There are several interesting species of bats that roost in Georgia’s forests, and therefore are not as likely as cave dwelling species to be represented in the fossil record.  Rafinesque’s big-eared bat (Plecotus rafinesquii) roosts in hollow cypress trees, and yellow bats (Lasiurus intermedia) exclusively spend days hidden in Spanish moss.  Perhaps the bat best adapted to the climatic fluctuations of the Pleistocene is the still abundant red bat.

The Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis), still extant, is well adapted to climatic fluctuations and is a real survivor of the Pleistocene when climate fluctuations were drastic compared to those of the most recent 11,000 years. 

Unlike most bats, this species is covered in fur and has short ears.  It’s capable of surviving at lower temperatures than any other species of bat, though it does become inactive below 68 degrees F.  They migrate south during the winter but spread as far north as Canada during the summer. They can also hibernate, if necessary.  They roost in trees, shrubs, and even within leaf litter on the ground.  They become active 90 minutes after sunset when they begin hunting for moths (26% of their diet), flies, mosquitoes, crickets, bugs, beetles, and cicadas.  They use echolocation to catch flying insects on the wing and to pounce on crawling arthropods.  Most species of bats give birth to 1 or 2 young, but red bats have litters as large as 5.  The mother bats leave the baby bats at the roost while foraging.  They will transport them to new roosts, however.  7% of the red bat population carries the rabies virus.  A predator such as a house cat or possum could easily become infected, if they find a red bat in the leaf litter.  Surprisingly though, blue jays are the top predator of red bats, mostly attacking the young.

Red bats have been excavated from fossil sites in Missouri, West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, and even Bermuda.  Apparently, a red bat washed up on a Bermuda beach 400,000 years ago and became fossilized.  Red bats are an ancient species and will probably survive the scourge of white nose syndrome, the disease that is wiping out all cave dwelling bats in eastern North America.  Because red bats are a solitary forest dwelling species, they are less likely to become infected with the communicable disease.  They’ll still be with us when, sadly, most other species of North America’s eastern bats are probably going to become extinct–an ecological disaster.

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The Geological and Ecological History of the Okefenokee Swamp (part three)

December 3, 2010

Common and Interesting Plants Found in the Okefenokee Swamp

Most of the aquatic  plants that dominate the present day landscape of the Okefenokee Swamp were restricted to small scale marshes alongside the reduced number of rivers and streams that still incised the Okefenokee basin during the arid milleniums of the Ice Age when the water table fell and the swamp dried up between 36,000 BP and 7,000 BP.  The rest of the basin during this time period probably consisted of grassy pine savannah and scrub oak.  Nevertheless, these relic aquatic remnants provided the nucleus of the population that eventually re-established itself as the primary vegetation of the region.  Here are some interesting floral components of this environment.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)–Eight-hundred year old giants still stand in a few coastal swamps near Georgia’s coast.  One-hundred years ago, when loggers decimated much of these ancient bottomland forests, they skipped over the biggest cypress trees because they were too large and hollow, and therefore too much trouble to economically harvest.  One of these gigantic cypress trees is located in the Townsend Wildlife Management Area in McIntosh County.  It’s 44 feet in circumference.  Imagine 7 men, all at least 6 feet tall, laying end-to-end in a circle around the tree and they still wouldn’t completely encircle it.  It’s understandable but not generally known that cypress trees are relatives of the famous Californian redwoods.  They sure have great size and long life in common.

For more about Georgia’s big cypress trees see this following link  http://savannahnow.com/news/2010-08-30/700-year-old-cypress-tell-story-survival

I took this photo of a cypress tree in autumn foilage at Phinizy Swamp in Augusta, Georgia.  Unlike most coniferous trees, cypress trees lose their foilage in the winter, like deciduous broad-leafed trees.

Unlike most coniferous trees, cypress trees are not evergreen, and they shed their needles in the winter.  They usually live in flooded swamps. They have mysterious knees–wooden knobs that grow above water.  Scientists are uncertain whether these aid in respiration or simply balance the trees in the watery muck where they grow.

Water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)–Cypress trees hollow out and provide roosting habitat for bats and homes for other animals, but tupelo trees become hollow more frequently.  Matt Clement, a grad student at UGA, found 97 roosts of Rafinesque’s bats along the Altamaha River, and most of them were in hollow tupelo trees.

Water shield or dollar pad (Brasenia schreberi), Floating Heart (Nymphoides sp.), and White Water Lilly (Nymphaea odorata)–These are three completely unrelated plants, but their leaves look similar.  In fact, I can’t really tell their leaves apart.  It’s an example of convergent evolution when different species evolve similar structures to solve the same ecological problems.  All three are what people think of as the lilly pads so commonly seen floating on the surface of the open water habitats in the Okefenokee Swamp that are often confusingly referred to as prairie because they’re treeless.  All three species have round floating leaves attached via long stems to underwater roots.

Panic grass (Panicum sp.) Saber-tooths and jaguars lurked hidden in patches of this tall cane-like grass, stalking the long-horned bison and horses that fed upon it during the Pleistocene.  The large fauna are gone but the flora remains.

Photo of some panic grass also known as maiden cane that I took at Phinzy Swamp, Augusta, Georgia.  There was another patch on the other side of the path that was 12 feet tall.  I wish I would’ve taken a photo of that.

Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides)–Oddly enough, Spanish Moss is related to pineapple–both are Bromeliads or air plants.  Wind and birds spread seeds and fragments.  The seeds and fragments of the Spanish Moss lodge in other tree branches.  The Spanish Moss then grows (both from seed and vegetatively).  The plant survives by extracting nutrients from air and rain water, not from the trees upon which they land, thus they’re considered epiphytes, not parasites.  Birds, bats, spiders, and snakes live in and about the moss.

Spanish Moss hanging from either a water or laurel oak at Phinizy Swamp, Augusta, Georgia.  Spanish Moss is quite common in the lowlands of the Augusta area, but I’ve never seen any in hilly sections.

Bladderwort (Utricularia sp.)–Like strange creatures from a low budget horror film, carnivorous plants thrive in the Okefenokee Swamp.  Bladderwort is an underwater plant with no roots.  The bladder-shaped structure on the plant works like a trap door, a suction-on-contact action captures fish fry, mosquito larvae, tadpoles, and protozoa.

Pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava, Sarracenia mino, Sarracenia psittacaea)–There are three species of pitcher plants found in the Okefenokee–the hooded, the parrot, and the golden.  A sweet rotten odor emanating from the plants attracts insects which get trapped in tubular stems.  Backward hairs block insects from being able to escape, and eventually, they tire and fall into the toxic water at the bottom of the tube.  Bacteria in the water digests the insects, releasing nitrogen that the pitcher plant is able to absorb.

Round-leafed Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)–The sticky hairs on this plant work just like flypaper, trapping hapless insects.

Burreed (Sparanium sp.)–Fossil mastodon dung discovered in the Aucilla River, Florida contains many types of aquatic plants, including most discussed here.  Cypress was the most common item in their diet, but the beasts ate nympoides, nymphaea, and this one–burreed.  Burreed is an important plant in the second stage of forest succession that occurs when islands develop within the swamp.

The five stages of forest succession in the Okefenokee Swamp

1.  Sphagnum moss floats to the surface of open water and soil begins to accumulate on it forming an island.  Beakrush takes root.

2. Burreed, panic grass, and redroot are the second stage of plants to colonize the island.

3. Sedges take over.

4. Bushes and saplings colonize the island.

5. Trees such as cypress, tupelo, water oak, and pond pine form the final components of island forest succession in the Okefenokee Swamp.