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Bat enthusiast Jillian Childs of Taneytown shows off a bat box she built from plywood that can house dozens of bats. Childs belongs to Bat Conservation International and advocates for the oft-misunderstood mammals.
Bat enthusiast Jillian Childs of Taneytown shows off a bat box she built from plywood that can house dozens of bats. Childs belongs to Bat Conservation International and advocates for the oft-misunderstood mammals. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

The winged creatures of the night that dominate Halloween decor every fall are celebrated by Taneytown resident and Bat Conservation International (BCI) advocate Jillian Childs all year long, and she wants more people to recognize the importance of this misunderstood mammal.

“I don’t think of them as a Halloween thing,” Childs said.

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Not surprisingly, though, because of their association with Halloween, this is Bat Week, an annual celebration of the role bats play in nature.

Every week is Bat Week for Childs, a 2009 graduate of Francis Scott Key High School who has been fascinated with bats from a young age. She thinks it started when she attended Camp Hashawha at Bear Branch Nature Center in sixth grade. Childs learned then that bats are a keystone species, on which other species in an ecosystem greatly depend.

Bats are the second-largest group of mammals in the world, according to BCI, behind rodents. Although some people may first think of the blood-drinking vampire bat, there are also insectivorous and fruit bats.

Childs said bats are pollinators and play an important role in California especially, helping almonds grow. Like bees, when bats drink nectar from flowers, the pollen sticks to them as they travel to the next flora. Bats are major pollinators in North American deserts, according to BCI.

Without bats, many flowers would not be pollinated and there would likely be more bugs, Childs said.

Fruit bats help forests regenerate by eating seeds and dispersing them, according to BCI.

Since bats play such a vital role in the environment and are threatened by habitat destruction and disease, Childs is doing what she can to protect them. She built a bat house from scratch that should be able to hold 30 to 40 bats, she predicts. Childs also has a smaller bat house she bought ready-made, attached to the fence in her backyard.

The type of bat house she built is designed to attract mother bats as it has four chambers that make it desirable as a nursery, Childs said.

Bat enthusiast Jillian Childs of Taneytown shows off a bat box she built from plywood that can house dozens of bats. Childs belongs to Bat Conservation International and is an advocate for the oft-misunderstood mammals.
Bat enthusiast Jillian Childs of Taneytown shows off a bat box she built from plywood that can house dozens of bats. Childs belongs to Bat Conservation International and is an advocate for the oft-misunderstood mammals. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Bat houses not only provide a place for bats to rest, they protect them from predators such as owls and hawks, according to Childs.

While most people may think bats thrive in darkness, they actually love sunshine — its warmth, that is. The bat house Childs made is painted dark brown so it will absorb the warmth of the sun. The color a bat house should be painted depends on where you live, according to Childs.

She said her bat house has an 89% habitation rate. She cut scores in the wood for bats to cling to, which took some time. Childs estimates it took her the equivalent of a month-and-a-half to build, though she didn’t work on it every day.

“I’d never done anything with power tools in my whole life … until bats," Childs said. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Tips on how to build a bat house are available on BCI’s website.

Around Carroll County, people are likely to see brown bats, like the little brown bat Childs wears on a necklace.

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Bat enthusiast Jillian Childs of Taneytown wears a pendant with a depiction of a little brown bat, a common bat species in Maryland. Childs belongs to Bat Conservation International and is an advocate for the oft-misunderstood mammals.
Bat enthusiast Jillian Childs of Taneytown wears a pendant with a depiction of a little brown bat, a common bat species in Maryland. Childs belongs to Bat Conservation International and is an advocate for the oft-misunderstood mammals. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Childs became a member of BCI a few years ago, and in 2016 got the opportunity to visit the largest bat colony in the world.

BCI gave Childs a pass to visit Bracken Cave Reserve in Texas, where millions of Mexican free-tailed bats come out nightly to hunt for insects. The bats migrate there every year to give birth, according to BCI.

“They swirl around in this big cyclone of bats for three hours," Childs said.

Childs said she stayed there for hours, watching the bats fly.

In 2017, Childs accompanied bat researchers to her uncle’s property in Taneytown, where they strung up a large net on 50-foot-tall poles to catch bats. Childs watched the researchers collect hairs and punch little holes in their wings to mark them. She said they were researching for White-nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that’s killing bats, and tracking their migration patterns.

Childs has gained a plethora of knowledge in pursuing this hobby. She shared the smallest bat is the bumblebee bat, officially known as the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat according to BCI, and can fit on your finger. The largest is the golden-crowned flying fox, whose wingspan can reach up to 5 feet, 6 inches, according to BCI.

She said she expects her fascination with bats will be a lifelong hobby.

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