By Megan Hammaker
Darke County Parks
Autumn is right around the corner and that means that spooky season is on its way. Those that celebrate Halloween decorate with pumpkins and ghosts as well as fake bats, snakes, spiders and spider webs. What is it about these critters that for many, puts them into the “creepy” category? I believe that one factor is their form of locomotion. Slithering, scurrying, and swooping are all modes of transportation that may make someone feel uneasy. Snakes use specialized muscles and their scales to push themselves forward, slithering along the ground. Spiders scurry across the floor with four pairs of furry jointed legs. Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly, using their hand-like wings to swoop around in the dark and catch insects.
If it’s not the way that these critters travel that give people the “heebie-jeebies”, then maybe it’s the fact that they’re not very, if at all, active during the day. This gives them the ultimate spooky factor, since around 50 percent of adults are afraid of the dark. Some snake species are crepuscular, meaning they’re active at twilight. The snakes that are diurnal, or active during the day, have great camouflage and hide during the hours in which you would expect to see them. Many times when a hiker does happen upon a snake, it is by complete surprise, startling the passerby. More times than not, these critters are just as terrified of you when this scenario takes place. However slithery and sneaky as snakes may seem, it’s important to remember that they play a vital role in the environment, keeping other species populations under control and providing a food source to animals further up the food chain, like birds of prey.
With the exception of jumping spiders, the majority of spiders are most active at night. Being more active at night, they are able to avoid predators and hunt more successfully. Even though spiders can have anywhere between 2-8 eyes, most of the time they have very poor eyesight. Instead, they rely heavily on touch, vibration, and taste stimuli to navigate their environment. Spiders eat many common pests including several species of flies and mosquitos. Finding a spider in your home may cause you to feel anxious, but you can rest easy knowing that there are no reported venomous spider species in Darke County. Most spiders are also not aggressive and won’t bite unless they feel threatened. Consider relocating these misunderstood little creatures to the outdoors using the simple cup and paper method instead of giving them the squish.
Bats are completely nocturnal and hunt for prey in complete darkness. With relatively poor eyesight, most of our bat species in Ohio rely on the use of echolocation to find prey. Bats use echolocation by emitting high-pitched sounds and using their highly sensitive ears to detect variations in the reflected soundwaves. How incredible?! All bats in Ohio are insectivores, meaning that they eat insects. No blood-sucking bats (like in the movies) occur here. On average, a single bat can consume around 1,000 mosquitos in an hour using echolocation to hunt. This makes them incredibly valuable in the control of mosquitoes and the diseases they spread. If you’re looking for a way to reduce the mosquito population around your property, consider installing some bat houses. As a teenager, I was told that bats will fly into your hair and bite you. I remember being paranoid when visiting the Lewisburg Haunted Cave each Halloween. However, bats have no interest in landing on you or biting you. They may swoop down near you in search of insects, but use their amazing echolocation abilities to avoid touching you.
I have always been one to try and understand and accept the critters that most find creepy and cast aside. I love finding the value in each living creature. Whenever I host programs about animals like bats, spiders, or snakes, I try my best to sway those that are so determined that these creatures are “creepy” and “gross”. The media and Hollywood do a great job of demonizing these critters, so trying to undo what many grow up with learning isn’t always easy. Not only are each of these organisms extremely valuable to our ecosystem, they’re also (to many people’s surprise) remarkably fascinating. I held a program last year about Jumping Spiders and was so excited to share how incredibly amazing they are with everyone that attended. The program was so successful that I had many attendees stay after to ask me further questions. When you erase all of the stigma that surrounds certain animals, and just appreciate them for what they are, the world becomes so much more intriguing!
If you have any interest in learning more about spiders or snakes, be sure to register for “Into the Arachnid-Verse” on Oct. 7 and/or “The Secret Lives of Snakes” on Nov. 8. You can find more information about both programs at www.darkecountyparks.org.