There were really only three things I knew about bats prior to my visit to Peachland’s Visitor Centre and my chat with Doris Muhs of BEEPS (Bat Education and Ecological Protection Society). First, bats travel by echolocation, second they eat mosquitos, and third, they turn into vampires.
Okay, maybe only two out of three of those are scientifically verifiable.
I walked into Peachland’s Visitor Centre looking for the Art Gallery — housed in the same building — but before heading to the gallery, Doris gave me a tour. A former history teacher, Doris really knows her stuff, and we had a fascinating conversation about fur trader routes, and early irrigation systems, and bats.
In Peachland, the visitor centre and art gallery are homed in a building which was once the town’s elementary school. It stood empty for years before being repurposed as a visitor’s centre, and when the new group began the process of renovating, they discovered buckets of bat guano in the attic. They were quickly informed that bats are a protected species and could not be removed. They rolled with it. BEEPS was born.
According to the BEEPS website, their mission is, “to promote the protection and preservation of bat species in Peachland, and to educate the public as a means of achieving these goals.” With nominal funding during their renovation, the society built bat houses in the building’s attic and also inserted cameras which they connected to viewing terminals in the lower levels of the building. Now, when people visit BEEPS they can actually watch a live feed of the bats and their pups on monitors.
That’s right, bat babies are called pups. I didn’t know that. Also, bats are mammals. In fact, bats are the only true flying mammals. I wasn’t aware. Bats also hibernate, which is one reason the Peachland Visitor Centre could not evict their tenants. Every year Peachland’s bats hibernate in caves for the winter, then return to the attic to roost and have babies. They remain in the attic from April through the summer with BEEPS volunteers performing regular counts of colony numbers. The fact that these bats can eat 2/3’s of their weight in insects nightly combined with the fact that their favourite meal is the mosquito is likely why so few mosquitos survive in Peachland. As well, Doris tells me, bat guano (poop) is extremely nitrate rich and makes excellent fertilizer — which can be purchased in buckets at the Visitor Centre Gift Shop.
According to Josy O’Donnel, bats have been around since the days of the dinosaurs (https://www.conservationinstitute.org/10-animals-that-hibernate). In recent years bat populations have been on the decline due largely to loss of habitat as human settlement encroaches on their territory. As well, bats are susceptible to a disease known as white nose syndrome, which is caused by a fungus which grows around the muzzles and wings of hibernating bats, sometimes spreading through and wiping out entire colonies. This has rapidly decimated world-wide bat populations. White nose syndrome has not yet been recorded in BC, but it has been discovered in Washington, and environmentalists are gearing up to combat the disease.
At BEEPS, a large part of the conservation effort comes through education. Through BEEPS people can join the adopt-a-bat program, can learn to build bat houses, can hike the local bat house interpretive trail, throw bat parties and more. BEEPS also offers school tours and bat chats — which take several forms depending on the season and the age group involved.
October 24 – 31 is Bat Week, which makes this the perfect week to pop in for a visit and a chat at BEEPS. Located at 5684 Beach in Peachland, the society is open to visitors Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 am to 4 pm weekly. All staff at BEEPS are volunteers, and in my experience, they are both friendly and exceptionally well-informed. I highly recommend checking them out.
For more information on BEEPS, see their website at https://www.beepspeachland.com.