Carol Jackson spends her days as an unassuming youth development volunteer. But during her free time, she goes - admittedly - a little batty.
"Yeah, people tease me, and I've heard all the jokes," she said. "But I love bats, just love 'em!"
She has a bat hat, wears bat shirts and drives a dark van adorned with a bat mural. But she makes no apologies for her bat habits.
It's all in the name of education.
"They're wonderful creatures, more closely related to humans than anything else physiologically," she said during a recent presentation to the Sierra Club. "And they are very, very intelligent."
They even purr when happy.
Globally, there are more than 1,000 species of bats, and many are endangered or already on the brink of extinction because of interference by man.
Bats, like snakes, also face persecution based more on myth and misunderstanding than scientific fact.
Although they are gentle, like dolphins, they can bite if threatened, Jackson said. But they don't spit goo, rarely if ever carry rabies and never get caught in people's hair.
"They are the only mammal that flies," she said. "Their wings are like little human hands, complete with thumbs."
Bats are members of the Chiroptera family, meaning "hand-wing," and their "scoop and flap" flight makes them exceptional insect killers.
Augusta is home to several species, Jackson said. The most common is the Little Brown Bat, a social creature that enjoys the company of other bats - and hangs out in crevices and attics.
"A lot of the church steeples in downtown Augusta, like Sacred Heart, have bats," she said. "They like old wooden structures."
The Big Brown Bat is more of a loner, often roosting by itself under overhangs or in garages. Like most bats, it hangs upside down, wrapped in its own wings, looking like a furry enchilada.
"We have the Red Bat, too," Jackson said. "They're here three seasons out of four, and they are tree dwellers. But they migrate in the dead of winter."
Out West, the long-nosed bats are the primary pollinators for many desert plants, including agave. "So without them, there would be no tequila," she said.
Vampire bats, native mainly to Central America, actually drink blood, she said. "They make a small incision, and lap up the blood when it oozes out," she said. "They might drink up to a teaspoon."
Their primary targets, however, range from chickens to an occasional exposed ear of a cow or other livestock - and not humans, as folklore dictates.
Bats have a very low survival rate. In fact, it is sometimes remarkable they even survive, she said. "They'll have one or two pups, no more, and usually only two might survive over five years."
Jackson is a member of Texas-based Bat Conservation International, which works to educate people about bats and protect species inching toward extinction. Its Web site is www.batcon.org.
Some people go out of their way to attract bats by installing specially designed bat houses with textured surfaces. The Georgia Extension Service, where Jackson works, can provide plans for building bat houses.
The houses must be installed 10 to 15 feet from the ground, and are best located where they will receive the morning sun.
"They'll cook in the late afternoon sun," Jackson said.
"But if you have unwanted bats, we have a video available for signout to watch and determine where bats are coming from," she said. "It will show you how to locate and exclude them, so they'll find someplace else to live."
The Extension Service office is at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, 3300-B Evans to Locks Road, 868-3413.
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