October 08. 2012 8:25PM

New Hampshire's bats get a public relations boost in Londonderry

By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent


Wildlife educator Dave Erler of the Squam Lakes Science Center holds a pair of brown bats on Monday morning during the “Amazing Bats” program at Londonderry Leach Library. Erler explained that bats are important to the state's ecosystem as they help pollinate plants as well as keep insect populations under control. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)
LONDONDERRY — Sure they're furry and they fly, but they're far from ferocious.

Indeed, if Granite State naturalist Dave Erler had his way, more of his neighbors would realize the common brown bat and the state's seven other native bat species are, in fact, their friends.

During a visit to the Londonderry Leach Library Monday morning, Erler, a wildlife educator with the Squam Lakes Science Center in Holderness, brought along a pair of his pint-sized friends in hopes of helping folks have a better attitude toward the misunderstood creatures.

“Basically, bats have been a mystery to people for a very long time,” Erler said as he passed around an oversized bat model to several dozen local children and parents.

Bats are the world's second largest group of mammals, with 1,140 species worldwide. Erler said 70 percent of those species eat mostly insects.

“If you have a garden at home, these guys will eat not only mosquitoes but the corn bores that wreck your vegetable crops,” he said.

The common brown bat, New Hampshire's most prevalent bat species, can eat up to 1,500 insects in one summer evening, according to Erler.

Unfortunately, there are some tough times ahead for the furry critters.

In 2006, the first cases of the fungal infection now known as white nose syndrome was identified in bat colonies in Albany, N.Y.

“It's now spread throughout New Hampshire,” Erler said, noting that more than 6 million bats have been lost to the infection in New England over the past few years alone.

Though scientists are working hard to find a solution for the disease, Erler said it might be too late for certain species, which could ultimately face extinction.

“My hope, though, is that some of the bats will become immune,” he said.

Children's librarian Jen DelVillar said this week's program was a timely one, since 2012 is the International Year of the Bat.

“Hopefully this will help people learn about the diversity of these animals and the importance they play in nature,” she said.

aguilmet@newstote.com