Seth Morgan, 16, a member of the Elkhead Wranglers 4-H club, holds up a bat box he and other club members made Thursday. The boxes have a narrow opening to keep predators out and are lined with screen so the bats can crawl inside.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Seth Morgan, 16, a member of the Elkhead Wranglers 4-H club, holds up a bat box he and other club members made Thursday. The boxes have a narrow opening to keep predators out and are lined with screen so the bats can crawl inside.

Elkhead Wranglers build shelters for bats, learn about animal’s role in ecosystem

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Elkhead Wranglers 4-H club members show bat boxes they and other club members made Thursday inside Todd Bellio’s shop outside of Craig. The boxes are made mostly from beetlekill pine, said Todd Bellio, who owns High Desert Timber Frame and supplied wood for the project. Pictured, from left, are Seth Morgan, Sarye Morgan, Wyatt Bellio and Ripley Bellio.

At a glance …

Members of the Elkhead Wranglers 4-H club made bat boxes Thursday to donate to the Nature Conservancy at the Carpenter Ranch near Hayden.

The narrow boxes offer a place for bats to nest and stay safe from predators.

Children and teens in the club learned bats play a vital role in the ecosystem by spreading pollen, which leads to healthier plants and crops.

Bat facts ...

Colorado is home to 18 species of bats, including those in the family Vespertilionidae, the largest bat family in the world.

Of about 900 species of bats, only three are known to feed on human blood.

Bats consume thousands of tons of night-flying insects in North America every year.

Contrary to myth, bats aren’t blind, although most use echolocation, a kind of sonar navigation, to find roosting spots and locate prey.

Source: Colorado Division of Wildlife

Bats: the silent scourge of the night, haunters of lonely belfries, elusive and dark.

But, this is only part of the story.

Forget the grainy horror films and the Count Dracula references.

Children and teens in the local Elkhead Wranglers 4-H club got the real scoop on bats recently, and it has more to do with crops and flowers than one might think.

Bats are pollinators, like bees and hummingbirds, said Jennifer Maiolo, parent of Derek Maiolo, the club’s president.

As they go from plant to plant, collecting tasty nectar or pollen, they cross-pollinate, which leads to heartier and healthier plants.

“It helps diversify plants and keeps a good healthy plant population, as well,” Maiolo said.

So, it makes sense that the club, which is largely comprised of children raising livestock for the Moffat County Fair, would take on a project designed to protect the furry, flying mammals.

“We’re pretty agriculture based,” said Lorrae Moon, the club’s head leader, “and so this kind of goes along with what they’re doing … making food for America.

“If we don’t have pollinators, then we don’t have crops, and then we don’t … have feed for our animals. So it’s kind of just a big circle.”

On Thursday, they built 12 bat boxes, or small structures in which bats can nest.

The bat boxes will eventually be donated to the Nature Conservancy at the Carpenter Ranch east of Hayden.

These structures measure only about 3 to 4 inches deep, Moon said, but they’re large enough to shelter the bats and protect them from predators.

Maiolo brushed up on her bat knowledge in preparation for the project. Her research revealed that times are tough for these tiny creatures.

Bats are prone to a scourge called white-nose syndrome. It’s caused by a white fungus that can grow on bats’ noses, wings, ears or tails, and it can prematurely rouse bats from hibernation, causing them to starve to death in the dead of winter, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s website.

The mysterious affliction is on the verge of entering Colorado, the Denver Post reported. If it does, populations of insects like mosquitoes and flies could surge without bats to keep them in check.

The project “really opened up our eyes” to some of the problems that plague local wildlife, especially animals that are lesser known and “aren’t cute and cuddly,” said Ripley Bellio, 15, one of the club’s members.

By building bat boxes, the Elkhead Wranglers tried to give bats whatever leg up they could.

“We were trying to promote a healthy bat population,” Maiolo said.

Many Elkhead Wranglers members initially weren’t aware of bats’ role as pollinators, she said. Once they got into the project, though, they liked it.

“They were really excited, I think, to build these boxes,” she said. “And, they did a fantastic job. The couple kids that I asked about it said they really enjoyed it and they had a great time.”

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