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Massachusetts Has A Real Bats Man

February 6, 1987

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ Thomas French was in his element again Thursday.

″Look at this 3/8 A nice pipistrelle and a nice keen 3/8″ he whispered as he espied the objects of his desire, two tiny sleeping bats hanging from the icy walls deep inside a pitch black cave where the mineral emery once was mined.

French, a naturalist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, was one of several researchers who forded foot-deep underground streams and picked their way over open shafts in the abandoned mine for the state’s annual count of sleeping bats.

The state has counted the bats every year for nearly a decade to check their comeback in Massachusetts. Several species were nearly devastated by DDT and other pesticides, and such species as the Indiana bat haven’t been sighted since 1939, French said.

On Thursday, French and naturalist Ellie Horwitz listed 46 little brown bats, 24 pipistrelles, 103 keens and 25 unidentified bats in the 100-foot long cave.

James Cordoza, a wildlife biologist, said the population appears to be stable, although the numbers were lower than last year. He said the count fluctuates from 100 to 300, perhaps because some of the bats winter elsewhere or hang in nooks where they can’t be seen.

The naturalists also found a half-dozen carcasses burned to death by torches wielded by human interlopers.

That’s why the state tries to keep secret the places where bats winter. State biologists bring visitors along on the counting expedition on condition they not disclose the exact location.

Massachusetts also has bought several favorite sleeping places for the bats. The state has a small bat population, protected by state law, of fewer than 5,000 in mines and caves and several thousand more in attics and other warm spots.

French said love is the real reason he conducts the count every year, sometimes singlehandedly.

″They’re small as a mouse, tiny, tiny, and yet they can live to 20 or 30 years,″ he said. ″That’s why they’re so vulnerable. If you kill a lot of them, their recovery is slow. They produce only one young each per year.″

French said bats have been maligned when in fact they are rarely rabid and are beneficial to man. One bat may eat upwards of 1,000 insects a night and some species average five times that number, the naturalist said.

French said his admiration for the mammals has prompted him to crawl through tiny holes in caves and descend 90-foot mine shafts to count them.

″If I had one in my attic, I’d keep it there,″ he said.

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