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Just before dusk, a dark shadow caught my attention as it swiftly flew through the sky at tree-top level. It all happened so fast, in fact, I looked twice to make certain I wasn't seeing things or going batty. Then it happened again and again.

I wasn't going batty. Instead, I was seeing a bat searching for food.

On account of Aesop, the Greek storyteller from the sixth century B.C., and the author of a short story called "The Bat, the Birds and the Beasts," ancient Greeks mistook bats as being rats with wings. In other words, they believed that bats could choose, depending upon circumstances, to behave like birds or rodents.

As it turned out, the ancient Greeks weren't far from being correct, since we now know that bats are nocturnal mammals that developed from featherless, mouse-like creatures approximately 52 million years ago.

Natural pest control

Nine species of bats reside within our growing area. Depending upon the type of bat, some sleep during the day in trees, while others sleep in caves or small, hollow structures. Some bats hibernate during winter, others migrate south.

A bat's fur coloring, wingspan and ear size are also species-dependent, and so too is its lifespan, which can be up to 25 years in some.

All nine species, however, are "insectivores" (insect eaters) and all use echolocation to snare flying insects out of mid-air within thin, skin-covered wings that evolved over the eons from fingers.

The belief that bats are blind is a myth. They actually see rather well, especially over long distances. But since they hunt and navigate mostly by echolocation, bats don't fly when it rains, because rain jams their radar.

The bats of our region are also timid and mostly harmless. Even so, they can contract and transmit deadly diseases, such as rabies, to animals and people.

Therefore, if you find a bat on the ground, don't handle it.

Which reminds me: Since Jack Frost will have frozen their food supply by the time Halloween rolls around, many of our regions bats will have either left town or will have started hibernating.

If you see a bat flying on Halloween, then, it's most likely Count Dracula.

This week in the garden

I couldn't think of a good reason not to freeze freshly-harvested bush beans that were first washed and prepped for cooking.

So I did, and it worked out well.

Lou Boulmetis is a certified master gardener who lives in Littlestown, Pa. Call him at 1-800-727-4287.


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