determine the optimum bat house design, placement, and color
for each region of the U.S.
The Genzlingers built bat houses, and so did thousands of
other researchers around the country. They built small ones,
large ones, green ones, black ones, white ones, one-chambered,
three-chambered, you name it, and they put them up in different
locations, at different heights, facing different directions. They
counted bats, and their children counted bats, and they accumulated massive amounts of bat data on eight different prototypes.
In the end, one of Genzlingers’ designs, 18 inches by 30, was
determined to be the best size for creating a temperature range
between 95 and 105 degrees, and thereby, the most conducive
to bat reproduction. Exterior color affects temperature: in the
Southwest, for example, white is best, while in the Northeast,
black is best.
The family started a bat-house construction business called
Chiroptera Cabin Company, and from about 1988 to 2010, Barry,
Mo, and their three children made and sold more than 4,000 bat
houses in six different models, all certified by Bat Conservation
International. That was back when their Batmobile was a mobile
classroom, a van with lots of bat bumper stickers and education-
al materials touting cool bat facts: “There are 9 species of bats
in Vermont, 9 of the 45 species found in the U.S., 9 of the 1,200
species found in the world,” and, “One little brown bat can eat
more than one thousand bugs in one hour.” Genzlinger lectured
on bats to school and community groups, and led programs at
Shelburne Farms and elsewhere, earning the title “Bat Man.”
When you talk with Barry, you get the sense that this project
– or maybe I should say, this lifestyle – is not just a hobby or a
passion. It’s a perfect mix of ideology and talent, dreams and
needs, and it provides Barry with a steady supply of problems to
solve – the lifeblood of any scientist.
Problem number one: what do we put the bats in? Solution:
cardboard box. Problem number two: how to prevent the box
from being destroyed by bat guano? Solution: plastic lining.
And so it went, every day being faced with another problem to
solve, and every day coming up with a new, exciting solution. An
old heating pad on the back of the cardboard box helped create
proper incubation temperatures; toilet paper rolls provided
entertainment for bored pups; pouches of denim and foam gave
the bats places to hide; babies who could not yet take milk from
a syringe were fed from an eyeshadow sponge.
In their backyard, Genzlinger shows me the flight cage he built.
This sturdy 16x16x7-foot structure provides the bats a place to
practice flying before their release. He laughs as he describes his
first flight cage, a pop-up screen house that blew away with the
first strong wind.
Inside the cage is a bat house. We open it and take a peek at
Izzy. She is free to leave but has chosen to stay, unlike the other
bats from her cohort, who were released in the spring of 2014.
Izzy kept coming back for the mealworms set out to allow the
bats to transition to hunting on their own, so Barry and Mo
eventually had to take her in for the winter. The door to the
flight cage is open, and she hunts on her own, but Izzy still
chooses to roost here, where the Genzlingers raised her. Barry
and Mo are sure Izzy recognizes them.
“There is no record of bats’ imprinting on humans,” said
Left: A bat takes flight on a summer night in Vermont, which is home to nine species of bats. Right: A big brown bat ready for release.