LOOK: Bats swoop into the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s adult programming

Guess which place imports the most bat guano and why.

Rob Mies holds Camilla, the megabat flying fox (Pteropus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Rob Mies holds Camilla, the megabat flying fox (Pteropus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Rob Mies holds Camilla, the megabat flying fox (Pteropus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Yes, that is an enormous bat. But don’t be afraid, she’s a sweetie.

Camilla is a giant Malayan flying fox, and though she’s never flown in her 22 years on earth, she’s made her way into the company of Ellen DeGeneres, Conan O’Brien and, last night, an adults-only crowd of Denverites at the Museum of Nature and Science.

Friday was field ecologist Rob Mies’ eighth time visiting DMNS. He’s the Bat Zone Director at Michigan’s Cranbrook Educational Community and the executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation.

The bat expert’s visits always draw huge crowds, but the special audience last night meant he was able to talk a little more frankly about his work.

Rob Mies holds a "big brown bat" (Eptesicus fuscus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Rob Mies holds a “big brown bat” (Eptesicus fuscus), which is actually quite tiny, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

For instance, most bats only have one baby at a time, but not the red bat (which, by the way, is found in Colorado). They can have “three, four or five at a time,” Mies told the audience.

“With kids, I call them ‘feeding stations’ but here we can call them nipples. They have four ‘feeding stations’ — that’s weird. You know, it’s kids all the time and families.”

The crowd erupted in laughter.

Organization for Bat Conservation educator Ian Ableson holds a straw colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum). (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Organization for Bat Conservation educator Ian Ableson holds a straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum). (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Another adults-only tidbit: Do you know who is the largest consumer of guano, or bat poop, in the world?

“This is interesting. I can’t tell kids this, uh, ever,” Mies said. “Guano harvesting around the world is a big multimillion dollar operation. There’s one place in the world that buys the most guano. It is Colorado.”

That’s right. The bat byproduct is some of the most nitrogen-dense stuff in the world, and we have a lot of cultivation that needs fertilizing.

“It’s legal here so I can say it,” he told the audience. “You’re growing your weed!”

Rob Mies shows the wing span of a Jamaican leaf-nosed bat (Phyllostomidae) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Rob Mies shows the wing span of a Jamaican leaf-nosed bat (Phyllostomidae) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The adult-only programming is one way that the museum is filling a need for knowledge-hungry Denverites who might be looking for an alternative to normal nightlife.

Jessa Phillips, an adult programming coordinator for DMNS, says adult audiences really want content. While she helps put on the “science lounge,” which is essentially just drinking at the museum, Phillips said the sold-out crowd for Mies’ presentation is proof that people want more than a reason to party.

And it shows.

The audience was keen to ask all sorts of questions ranging from bats’ birthing cycles to ecosystem health.

Rob Mies holds Camilla, the megabat flying fox (Pteropus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Rob Mies holds Camilla, the megabat flying fox (Pteropus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

For Mies, this is a very good thing. He’s not just taking his winged friends on a tour for fun.

Mies and his colleagues are on a mission to win people’s hearts for bats because he sees some disturbing trends that could be overlooked if people are afraid of the creatures.

Rob Mies holds Camilla, the megabat flying fox (Pteropus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Rob Mies holds Camilla, the megabat flying fox (Pteropus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Urbanization has limited bat habitats over the last century, making it difficult for species to find safe havens. Researchers at the University of Northern Colorado have also been studying the effects of climate change on species, Mies said, observing how disappearing mineral water sources have caused bats to stop reproducing.

There’s also a spreading fungal problem called “white nose syndrome” that has stretched from a single county in New York to 36 states. Fungus grows on bats’ faces while they hibernate, waking them up and disturbing their metabolic cycles. Mies says about one million bats a year are dying because of this fungus.

Lauren Magliozzi oggles a "big brown bat" (Eptesicus fuscus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Lauren Magliozzi checks out a “big brown bat” (Eptesicus fuscus) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Avocados, agave and bananas are all pollinated by bats. If you care about guacamole or tequila (or apparently, weed), you should care about bats, Mies said.

The flying critters also are the largest consumer of insects in the world. As they die, Mies said we probably won’t see an increase in bugs but instead increased use of pesticides. As a field ecologist, Mies looks at ecosystem-wide issues. More chemicals means not only fewer bats but also fewer bees and more health issues for humans.

Rob Mies before his presentation to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) dmns; denver museum of nature and science; bats; biology; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado;
Rob Mies before his presentation to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

While Mies usually works to educate kids who might one day work to help save bat species, Friday he struck a chord with people who can act much sooner.

And it worked. As the audience left, new bat lovers walked away with just-purchased bat houses and a little more knowledge than before. Not bad for a Friday night out.

 

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video.