Bat lovers enlighten the masses
By Denise M. Baran-Unland Correspondent May 6, 2013 2:08PM
Live bat presenter Sharon Peterson of Frankfort and Togo, an African straw-colored fruit bat. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Updated: June 8, 2013 6:16AM
For Dan and Sharon Peterson of Frankfort, life with 3-year-old male Egyptian fruit bats, Tut, Ramses, Imhotep, and Azizi, is more than presenting 200-plus Incredible Bats programs a year in places such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Iowa.
It also means finding time to schedule play dates between them and Togo and Tanzania, two African straw-colored bats, the newest additions to the Petersons’ household and their live bat educational programs.
“The African straw-colored bats are curious, but right now, the Egyptian fruit bats are not very enthusiastic,” Sharon said. “The African straw-colored bats keep sniffing them and the Egyptian fruit bats keep trying to get away.”
Both species are megabats, nectarivorous bats that help distribute plants by eliminating seeds. Mature Egyptian fruit bats measure 18 inches of wing span and weigh 4 to 6 ounces.
African straw-colored bats grow up to 9 inches; their wingspan can be 30 inches; and their cheeks resemble large pouches.
Togo and Tanzania are not related because the Petersons plan to breed these bats when they become sexually mature. Right now, Tanzania is only 18 months. Togo celebrated his first birthday around Easter. The pair cost $3,000, so breeding is the most cost-efficient way to grow their colony.
“Bats prefer living in groups,” Sharon said.
For now, only Tut, Ramses, Imhotep, and Azizi attend shows, and they travel well. A friend designed a special carrying case: a wire cage that fits into a Plexiglas display case that fits into a large dog carrier. This makes it easy for the bats to transition from car to pet-friendly hotel to presentation.
Not every pet-friendly hotel, however, is fond of the bats.
“I’ve had some mixed reactions,” Sharon said. “Some have refused me but others, once they understand the bats stay in the cage, are fine with them.”
The Petersons will customize their live bat program for any group. These include scouts, camps, schools and libraries. Sharon, an elementary school teacher and librarian, received her training through Bat Conservation International.
Dan, a bat naturalist, also gives gospel-based talks for church groups. Summer bat hikes are another program option. The Petersons use a bat detector to hear the echolocation bats in the wild make.
The Petersons’ bats were born in captivity, so they have not been exposed to rabies. During live bat programs, the Petersons love to dispel common bat myths: bats are blind; bats will try to fly into your hair; bats are dirty; and bat bites change people into vampires.
“Vampire bats are actually very loving,” Sharon said. “They’ll groom each other and share their food.”
Occasionally, the Petersons walk away learning something new. One nurse at a live bat presentation talked about clinical trials with bat saliva as it contains a potent anticoagulant.
“It’s very unusual to have someone come out with live bats, so we definitely fill a unique niche,” Sharon said. “People can see them up close and flying about.”
Contact Incredible Bats at 815-485-2259, www.incrediblebats.com or find “Incredible Bats” on Facebook.