There are at least eight types of bats in Minnesota, and at least two types of Minnesotans.
Some see a bat where a bat ought not to be — like my dining room — and scream and run and keep running; pausing only to post about it on social media or to remember that there's a basement window that could be opened to allow the bat to flap harmlessly off into the sunset.
But other Minnesotans, better Minnesotans, see a bat and want to help. They install bat houses in their bat-friendly yards. And when a bat is in distress, they bundle it off to the bat rescue, where bat dentists perform surgery on its wee bat teeth.
"I always find it absolutely amazing what members of the public, with no wildlife experience, bring us," Tami Vogel, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, wrote in an email. "From herons, to bobcats, to snakes — Minnesotans are passionate about helping wildlife — and we are so thankful for that."
Bats are capable of eating their body weight in mosquitoes and other pests — as many as 1,500 mosquitoes per bat per night. In the past five years, the center and its helpers have saved nearly 1,400 bats, if anyone wants to do the mosquito math.
"All because people made time to rescue the 'scary' animal who needed help," Vogel said.
Happy Bat Week to all types of Minnesotans. Welcome to this weekend's Minnesota Bat Festival in Bloomington, where bats are more than just spooky Halloween decor.
The Saturday afternoon festival will be held at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and will feature bats, bat scientists, an explorable bat cave, bat trivia, bat crafts and bat house giveaways. The event is also your chance to meet bat experts like Nicole Witzel, a wildlife biologist for Hennepin County.
On any given day, you can find Hennepin biologists out in the woods, wetlands and caves of the most populous county in the state. What Witzel and her team are finding are animals — from rusty-patched bumblebees to endangered long-eared bats — who could use our help.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates that bats gobble up enough agricultural and forest pests to contribute $3 billion in ecosystem benefits to the nation each year, which is more than most of us can say.
Some Minnesotans go to great lengths to return the favor.
In early August, a St. Paul resident arrived at the wildlife center with a sick bat they'd found in their front yard. A veterinarian with very sharp eyes realized that the female — a member of the aptly named big brown bat species — had a broken tooth that was making it impossible for her to eat without pain.
It took weeks of slow, careful feedings to get her strong enough for the surgery she needed, but a dental specialist was eventually able to remove the painful tooth — so small that if you placed it next to a quarter, it would be about the size of George Washington's ear — and cover the exposed root.
A lot of bats come in to the rescue at this time of year, and with cold weather coming on, most will overwinter at the wildlife center in Roseville in a "bat cave" they built out of a converted wine fridge that mimics cave-like temperatures and humidity. Bats without access to a wine fridge make it through Minnesota winters by migrating away, or hibernating in caves or man-made structures until their food sources return in the spring.
"They need our help," Vogel said, "and thankfully someone has made the time to bring them to us."
For more bat fun, check out the festival on Saturday, from 1-5 p.m. at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington. The event is free. More information is at fws.gov/event/minnesota-bat-festival.