NIGHT MOVES: Biologists Work to Dispel Fears, Preserve Bats at Fort Bragg

Rafinesque's Big-eared Bat

Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat

Bats have long been associated with Halloween. Indeed, the origin of Halloween has a long history. Once celebrated during the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) in what is now Ireland, Great Britain, and France, the Celts believed that on 31 October the ghosts of the dead returned to earth the day before their new year. They built sacred bonfires, dressed in costumes, and left food on their doorsteps for the roaming ghosts. This eventually was secularized and evolved into what we know as Halloween in the present day.

So where do bats fit into Halloween? It is believed that the huge bonfires built to keep spirits away attracted insects to the fire. Those insects buzzing about in turn attracted bats, which are voracious insectivores. The festival of Samhain was a celebration of the harvest and the change of the season from fall to winter. It was all very innocent really. Bats were taking advantage of the insects around these huge fires and at that time, people had no idea they would eventually become associated with Halloween.

Folklore of vampires and blood suckers were common across Europe, so in the 17th century when Europeans learned of bats in Latin America that feed on blood they were given the common name vampire bats. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until Bram Stokers book Dracula and the vampire movies of the 1950’s that the idea of evil bloodsucking creatures took flight. Suddenly, these small, winged mammals were demonized and became the creatures some people wrongly fear today.

Hanging Red Bat

Hanging Red Bat

The unknown leads to many misconceptions and fears of a mammal that is in reality extremely beneficial. There are many bat myths circulating around.

  • Myth 1: Bats are blind. FALSE. While they actually do have good eyesight, for most that is not their primary way to seek food or navigate the night sky. They use what is known as echolocation to seek out their prey and fly at night. Echolocation is a biological sonar system whereby the bat emits a high frequency sound and uses the corresponding echo from that call to determine the location and identification of objects and prey. This allows them to navigate in total darkness and see everything, sensing obstacles as fine as a human hair.
  • Myth 2: Bats are flying mice. FALSE. Bats are not rodents and are more closely related to you than a mouse.
  • Myth 3: Bats get tangled in your hair. FALSE. Remember that echolocation sonar system they use? It can detect an obstacle as fine as a human hair, so no worries!
  • Myth 4: All bats are blood suckers. FALSE. While there are three species of vampire bats found in Latin America, only one targets mammals. However, they don’t suck blood, they lap it up like a kitten with milk. The bats produce a powerful anticoagulant in their saliva to keep the blood from clotting. This enzyme is used in medication that helps prevent strokes in humans.
  • Myth 5: All bats are rabid. FALSE. Not even close! Sure bats can contract rabies like other mammals and some may. Nonetheless, the vast majority of bats are not infected. If you see a bat that you can easily approach it is likely sick and you should avoid contact. This includes your pets as well. Never handle a bat or any other wild animal – leave that to the pros!
  • Myth 6: Bats don’t matter. FALSE. Bats DO matter! Why? Bats are on the first line of defense against many insects and pests. One small Mexican free-tailed bat, found here on Fort Bragg, can eat about 1,000 insects per hour! It has been estimated that pest-control services provided by bats likely saves the U.S. agriculture industry at least $3 billion a year. Without these nighttime flying mammals there would be more pests eating precious crops. As for the bats that eat nectar and fruit, without them seeds would not be dispersed and plants would not be pollinated. Items such as bananas, avocados, and tequila would vanish.

There are over 1,300 species of bats found all over the world, except in extreme Polar Regions, and they come in all shapes and sizes from the tiny bumblebee bat to the large flying foxes and everything in between. Bats are the only mammals that have developed powered flight; other flying mammals only glide. A bats wing is made from thin skin stretched between elongated fingers, allowing the bat to maneuver more accurately than a bird.

Bats eat many different things, including insects, fruit, nectar, fish, and least of all, blood. All of the bats found in North Carolina are insectivorous so you will not find any fruit, nectar, vampire, or fish-eating bats in this locale. About two-thirds of all bat species feed on insects and other small prey.

Not all bats live in caves. Bats found on the Installation do not use caves while in this area, but some species may travel to caves in the winter to hibernate. Potential roost locations include tree foliage, hollow trunks, under the loose bark of trees, tree cavities, buildings, bridges, and bat houses.

Red Bat & Seminole Bat Side-by-Side

Red Bat & Seminole Bat Side-by-Side

The Endangered Species Branch has documented ten of the sixteen different species of bats found in North Carolina on Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall, including two rare species: Big Brown bats, Evening bats, Hoary bats, Silver-haired bats, Eastern Red bats, Tri-colored bats, Seminole bats, Brazilian (or Mexican) Free-tailed bats, Southeastern bats and Rafinesque’s Big-eared bats. The Southeastern and Rafinesque’s Big-eared bats are both listed as Federal Species of Concern and North Carolina Special Concern species.

Biologists search for bats using special equipment to record their echolocation calls, and by searching in hollow trees, under bridges, in old buildings, and catching bats in mist nets. Mist nets look like giant hair nets that are strung up across an area where bats will come to frequently (like a water source) with hopes that a bat flies into it so it can be captured. Oftentimes, the bats avoid the mist nets due to their echolocation call, which causes the bat to “see” and hear the net so they fly around to avoid capture.

Red Bat & Seminole Bat Side View

Red Bat & Seminole Bat Side View

Bats are in trouble. Not only are they are continually threatened by habitat loss each year, but since 2007 they’ve been decimated by a rapidly spreading fungal infection known as White Nose Syndrome. First detected in New York, it has spread into the central United States and as far north as Quebec, killing millions. What can you do? Don’t be afraid! You can help bats by encouraging them to roost in your yard by constructing a bat house or by protecting their roost sites and habitat. Build a bat house and you may be able to save money on bug repellant!

Just in time for Halloween is Bat Week 2015 starting on 25 October 2015. For more information on bat week visit http://www.batweek.org/. For more facts about bats you can also visit Bat Conservation International for up to date information at http://www.batcon.org/

 

A PRESCRIPTION FOR SAFER MEDICATION DISPOSAL

Pills 2

If you visited your physician this year, chances are, you walked away with a prescription. In fact, four out of five patients leave their doctor’s offices with a prescription. Annually, the average North Carolinian fills 14 prescriptions, and 127 million drugs enter households in the state. However, 40 percent of prescription drugs dispensed to consumers are never used, and over $1 billion of medications are either stored or discarded every year, leading to a myriad of environmental and public health issues.

Environmental chemists Christian Daughton and Ilene Ruhoy once wrote, “Wastage of medications not only maximizes the ability of active pharmaceutical ingredients to enter the environment with largely unknown consequences, it also increases the likelihood that drugs can be diverted to others for unintended purposes, leading to drug abuse and accidental poisonings.”

The sources of prescription drug disposal are unclear, and the percentages of active pharmaceutical ingredients in the environment that originate from disposal are not known. However, recent monitoring studies have detected low levels of a range of pharmaceuticals including hormones, steroids, antibiotics and parasiticides in soils, surface waters and ground waters across a wide range of hydrological, climatic and land use settings. The United States Geological Survey estimates that over 80 percent of waterways have detectable concentrations of APIs. Antibiotics, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers and hormones have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 40 million Americans. Concentrations are currently below levels that would cause concern, but if these concentrations increase and become more widespread, they could certainly pose a threat to public health and have adverse effects on both aquatic and terrestrial organisms.

Furthermore, both prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines cause a vast majority of the unintentional poisonings in the United States. According to the North Carolina Division of Public Health, over 1,000 people die in the state each year from overdoses on prescription drugs.

The safest and most sustainable disposal options for prescription and OTC medications are through law enforcement agencies or government programs. The Fort Bragg Office of the Provost Marshal accepts medications at the Law Enforcement Center in Building 2-5634 on Armistead Street. The Fayetteville Police Department at 457 Hay Street accepts prescriptions, OTC medicines, vitamins, pet medicines, ointments, lotions and liquid medications in glass or leak-proof containers. They do not, however, accept needles, thermometers, blood or infectious wastes, hydrogen peroxide, aerosol cans, nitroglycerin, blood thinners or nicotine patches.

The state of North Carolina’s Operation Medicine Drop, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Event and similar programs are held at various times and locations through the year. In Cumberland County, Operation Medicine Drop is scheduled for Saturday, September 27 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the following locations.

  • North Post Exchange on Fort Bragg
  • North Carolina State Highway Patrol office at 2435 Gillespie Street in Fayetteville
  • Cumberland County Law Enforcement Center at 131 Dick Street in Fayetteville
  • Eastover Fire Department at 3405 Dunn Road in Eastover
  • Stedman Fire Department at 7595 Clinton Road in Stedman
  • Wade Fire Department at 7130 Powell Street in Wade

Moore County collection locations can be found HERE.

For more information and for more collection points in the area, visit the North Carolina Department of Justice.

If you absolutely cannot discard your medications through a law enforcement agency or government program, be sure to discard them in a responsible manner.

To prevent accidental ingestion by people and pets, always secure medications carefully, and surrender or responsibly discard these medications as soon as they are no longer required in the manner stated on the label. Do not flush a prescription, though, unless the label specifically directs such disposal.

The Food and Drug Administration recognizes that there are environmental concerns associated with the introduction of medications into the wastewater system, but the agency maintains that the risks associated with the exposure to certain controlled substances outweigh the risks associated with their disposal by flushing. These medications include Demerol, Oxycontin, Percoset, Diazepam, Tramadol and drugs that contain fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, buprenorphine hydrochloride and their derivatives. These substances can be harmful or fatal if ingested by someone other than the person for whom they were prescribed.

If you cannot discard your medication through a law enforcement agency or government program and the label does not specifically recommend disposal by flushing, you can discard it in your household trash with certain precautions. Do not crush tablets or capsules, and do not place medications directly in the trash. Instead, combine them with an unpalatable substance such as cat litter or coffee grounds in a sealable plastic bag or sturdy container, and place the sealed container in the trash. A new innovation called Pill Terminator is another option. One can collect as many as 300 pills in the Pill Terminator bottle and fill the bottle with warm water, which combines with a powder that destroys pills for safe disposal in the trash. Visit The Pill Terminator for more information.

Plastic prescription bottles can be recycled. Bottles should be empty and clean, and all pertinent prescription and personal information on the label should first be removed or thoroughly obscured prior to recycling.

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Rx Drug Disposal

FOR MORE INFORMATION …

Food and Drug Administration: Disposal of Unused Medicines

North Carolina Department of Justice: Prescription Drug Abuse

EPA Medicine Disposal Guide

Office of National Drug Control Policy Prescription Drug Abuse Initiative

Dispose My Meds

 

KEEPING OUR COASTS CLEAN

Ocean Wave

With its sand, surf and sun, the beach is a perfect place to escape from daily life. But, coastal environments are constantly threatened. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, beach closures and swim advisories are at a record high due to beach water contamination.

Of the 30 states with coastlines, North Carolina ranks 5th for clean beach water. Every coastal state, though, has at least one beach with pollution issues. In 2013, more than 10 percent of the water samples collected at American beaches raised concerns about water quality, and hundreds of beaches throughout the country were closed at some point in the season as a result of these concerns.

Water contamination can have significant impacts on public health and on the environments and economies of beach communities. Water pollution leads to illnesses from conjunctivitis to hepatitis and from ear infections to rashes. Pollution degrades delicate coastal habitats. And, the beach closures that occur every year adversely affect revenue from tourism.

While legislation such as the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act and the Clean Water Act protect our waterways and provide federal funds to monitor the cleanliness of beach water, clean beaches are truly in the hands of beachgoers.

Clean beaches actually begin hundreds of miles from shore. Urban runoff is responsible for 60 percent of beach water contamination. Urban runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, occurs when rainfall or snowmelt moves over or through the ground, collects natural or man-made pollutants and deposits them into waterways. Contaminants such as chemicals and organic wastes diminish water quality, harm fish and wildlife, damage native vegetation, pollute the municipal water supply and degrade natural recreation areas. You can prevent urban runoff by reducing your use of chemicals, storing chemicals securely, discarding wastes properly and preventing these contaminants from entering waterways and storm drains.

Before you journey to the coast, monitor the water quality forecasts of area beaches, and search for alerts, closures and advisories. The Division of Marine Fisheries of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources issues beach alerts and closures for the North Carolina coast. Choose to visit a beach where water quality is consistently monitored and where water samples do not exceed the national Beach Action Value threshold, which is the Environmental Protection Agency’s most protective benchmark for assessing swimmer safety. If the water appears unclean or has a foul odor, do not swim. Avoid swimming immediately after a heavy rain, when urban runoff is most prevalent. Also, avoid swimming near pollution sources such as pipes, outfalls and ditches.

Do you part to maintain a sanitary beach. Stay out of the water if you are ill to avoid the spread of water-borne illnesses, and avoid beach water if you have open wounds or infections. Use public restrooms. If pets are allowed on the beach, discard pet wastes properly. If you are boating, discharge wastes at a pump station and not in the ocean.

Mind your waste at the beach. Use reusable food and beverage containers instead of plastic containers. Always deposit your litter – including cigarette litter – in designated receptacles, or carry your trash with you. Remember to recycle as much as possible.

Protect coastal habitats by obeying regulations regarding sand dunes, beach grasses and seasonal enclosures. Dunes and beach grasses are the first lines of defense against the erosion that can have devastating effects on coastlines. Seasonal enclosures are often in place to protect nesting or roosting endangered wildlife. While they do temporarily limit beach access, these restrictions ultimately maintain open beaches and prevent permanent closures. In addition, refrain from feeding shore birds.

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Life's a Beach

FOR MORE INFORMATION …

Natural Resources Defense Council Beach Water Quality Report

NCDENR Division of Marine Fisheries Beach Closures and Swim Advisories

THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT …

Waterkeeper Swim Guide


PROTECT YOUR SKIN AND HEALTH WITH A BETTER SUNSCREEN

Sunscreen

If you do not use sunscreen this summer, your fun in the sun could rapidly become an unpleasant experience. Excessive sun exposure can cause painful sunburn, premature aging, immune system suppression and skin cancer. In fact, nearly four million Americans are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer annually, and the cases of melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – have tripled in the last 40 years.

However, a recent study by the Environmental Working Group discovered that nearly two-thirds of the sunscreens tested were not as effective as they claimed to be and contained ingredients that were potentially detrimental to public health. But, there are many sunscreens that can protect your skin with minimal adverse effects.

CHEMICALS OR MINERALS?

There are two basic types of sunscreens: chemical-based sunscreens and mineral-based sunscreens.

Common chemical-based sunscreens include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Although they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, chemical-based sunscreens carry potential health concerns. The chemical compounds can penetrate living tissues in the body, cause hormone disruptions, hinder thyroid functions, negatively affect reproductive functions and lead to skin allergies. However, the long-term health effects of these compounds specifically in sunscreens are subjects of debate. Oxybenzone and octinoxate present the most concerns. Homosalate, octisalate and octocrylene present moderate concerns. Avobenzone presents only minimal concerns.

In addition, many chemical-based sunscreens contain anti-inflammatory agents that mask the severity of skin damage caused by sun exposure, and they often contain vitamin A, also known as retinyl palmitate or retinol. Even though it is a vital nutrient, vitamin A can accelerate the development of cancer cells when it is exposed to the sun.

The zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in most mineral-based sunscreens have fewer health concerns. Some studies indicate that their miniscule particles could prove harmful to the body if absorbed, but when they are stabilized in sunscreens, they cannot penetrate the skin to any worrisome degree.

Therefore, the Environmental Working Group considers mineral-based sunscreens to be the healthier option.

THE TRUTH ABOUT SPF

A sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, measures its ability to deflect the ultraviolet B rays that cause sunburn in terms of length of exposure. Theorectically, an individual who wears a sunscreen with SPF 30 could expose his skin to the sun 30 times longer than an individual who wears no sunscreen before he suffers sunburn.

But, an SPF is no indicator of a sunscreen’s ability to protect from the ultraviolet A rays that penetrate the skin and cause more subtle, but more intense and comprehensive damage. A proper balance of UVB and UVA protection is vital. Sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are not only the safest sunscreens, but they are also the most effective sunscreens for impeding both UVB and UVA rays.

Although sunscreens with SPFs of up to 100 are available, the additional protection that they offer from the penetration of UVB and UVA rays is actually negligible. For instance, a sunscreen with SPF 15 deflects 93 percent of UVB rays, while a sunscreen with SPF 100 deflects 99 percent of UVB rays. Sunscreens with high SPFs can lull users into a false sense of security. Individuals who use these sunscreens tend to stay in the sun for longer periods of time or fail to reapply sunscreen as often as needed. Therefore, they suffer more exposure to harmful UV radiation. According to the EWG, high SPF sunscreens are not more effective at reducing skin damage or occurrences of skin cancer. A sunscreen with SPF 30 to SPF 50 is usually sufficient for most individuals as long as it is applied properly.

MORE TIPS FOR PROTECTING YOUR SKIN AND HEALTH …

  • Limit sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Avoid artificial sources of UV rays such as tanning beds and sun lamps.
  • Use long clothing, hats and sunglasses to protect your skin.
  • If you will be in the sun, seek shade whenever and wherever possible. For instance, carry a sand umbrella when you visit the beach.
  • Apply sunscreen properly. Sunscreen users tend to apply only one-fifth to one-half of the recommended amount of sunscreen. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends an initial application of two tablespoons to the entire body at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. Regardless of SPF, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Avoid powder and spray sunscreens. They pose inhalation risks, and there are concerns about their effectiveness.
  • Avoid sunscreens that contain insect repellant. The exposure to additional chemicals is unnecessary.
  • Be wary of terms such as waterproof and sweat proof as well as of green labels such as organic or natural. Research the ingredients!

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Healthier Sunscreen

FOR MORE INFORMATION …

EWG Guide to Sunscreens


EWG RELEASES DIRTY DOZEN AND CLEAN FIFTEEN LISTS

Strawberries

The Environmental Working Group has recently released this year’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.

Based on tests of 48 popular produce varieties, the Dirty Dozen is a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the greatest concentrations of pesticides. Consumers should, if possible, purchase the organic versions of these fruits and vegetables to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals. The Clean Fifteen is a list of 15 fruits and vegetables that contain the most insignificant concentrations of pesticides.

THE DIRTY DOZEN

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Imported nectarines
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Imported snap peas
  12. Potatoes

THE CLEAN FIFTEEN

  1. Sweet potatoes
  2. Cauliflower
  3. Cantaloupes
  4. Grapefruits
  5. Eggplants
  6. Kiwis
  7. Papayas
  8. Mangoes
  9. Asparagus
  10. Onions
  11. Frozen sweet peas
  12. Cabbage
  13. Pineapple
  14. Sweet corn
  15. Avocados

All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed prior to consumption.

For the entire list, visit The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.