DURANT — Bryon Clark’s interest in bats dates back to his childhood days on the family farm in Iowa.
“We were renovating our farmhouse and one day as they pulled the shingles off the roof we discovered a bat in between the rafters,’’ Clark recalled. “I was in the first grade at the time and I took it in a box to school for show and tell. Afterward, I took the bat home and released it. I guess I’ve been interested in bats ever since.’’
Keep in mind that this was the 1960s, a simpler time when “show and tell’’ was not regulated like it might be today and all types of exotic creatures appeared in the
Today, Dr. Clark is Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs – Student Learning and Accreditation — at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and a longtime biology professor. His study of bats has taken him across the United States and abroad.
And come Halloween time, he is often asked to share his knowledge of the flying creatures in presentations to students and adults alike.
“I probably make eight to 10 presentations a year,’’ Clark said. “In addition to local schools, I’ve traveled to such places as Ardmore, Stillwater, Idabel, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, and even Florida for programs.’’
His “Amazing World of Bats’’ presentation normally lasts 30-45 minutes, with plenty of time for questions, whether he’s at an elementary/middle school or civic club. Clark’s traveled the educational bat circuit for some 25 years now and the tradition has developed quite a following.
Worldwide, there are approximately 1,100 species of bats, according to Clark, including 22 types in Oklahoma and 32 in Texas. In southeast Oklahoma, the most common is the Eastern Red bat.
“In many cases, bats get a bad rap,” he said. “In movies and on television, they’re often characterized as blood-sucking vampires. There are actually three types of vampire bats but none regularly occurs in the United States. In fact, bats provide many beneficial services such as eating insect pests and pollinating several economically important plants in tropical areas.
“ One of the biggest misconceptions about bats is that most all of them carry rabies when in fact, a recent scientific study found that only about 1% of bats in natural populations in the United States and Canada are carriers; this percentage increases to about 6% for the bats most commonly encountered by people. That does not mean that you should not be careful. If you see a bat, especially one that is on the ground and appears to be sick, do not touch it with your bare hands but carefully remove the bat from the area so that it doesn’t bite an unsuspecting child or pet.”
Other frequent questions that fly Clark’s way are ‘how long do bats live?’ and ‘why do they hang upside down?’
“The life expectancy for bats in this region can range from 20 to 30 years,’’ he said. “By hanging from the ceiling of caves, they are protected from predators.’’
Over the years, Clark has received a number of phone calls from concerned citizens who were fearful that bats had infested their dwellings.
In some cases, he noted that instead of bats, birds known as chimney swifts were the culprit.
However, on other occasions, Clark has discovered the real thing.
In one such instance, he rescued some 50 big brown bats from a business establishment. It seems that the bats had decided to use the second floor as a roosting site. Clark frantically collected the bats and moved them to a safe location.
Clark encourages everyone to learn more about bats and be bat friendly.
“These are tough times for bat populations in the United States,’’ he said. “White-nosed syndrome has killed about 5.7 million bats since first being discovered in 2006 and many bats have lost their roost sites in caves and mines.”
Clark is just one of many Southeastern faculty/staff members who lend their expertise volunteering in various capacities in the community.
As a matter of fact, The Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Education named Southeastern Oklahoma State University to the 2012 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. This honor is in recognition of schools for their commitment to improving their communities through community service and service learning.
During the 2010-2011 academic year, more than 760 individuals from Southeastern (students-faculty-staff) completed approximately 30,000 hours of community service activity.
Clark joined the University faculty in 1990, after completing his post-docotral studies at Oklahoma State University, and having having earned his Ph.D. at Kansas State University, his master’s at Western Illinois University, and his bachelor’s at Central College (Iowa).
If you would like to learn more about bats or to request a presentation, please contact Clark via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.