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Book review: Colorado biologist goes to bat for bats

Published: Friday, Feb. 6 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

BATS OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN WEST, by Rick Adams, illustrations by Wendy Smith, University of Colorado Press, 289 pages, $55.

Thanks to centuries of misconceptions, bats have gotten a bad rap.

In an effort to correct that, Rick Adams, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Northern Colorado, offers a fresh and scientific look at these amazing creatures.

"Few poets have attempted to portray the nature of bats," Adams, who is also the president of the Colorado Bat Society, writes. "Usually glimpsed in fits and moments, bats may appear bigger than life itself, personifying mystery and the unknown. As perceived spawns of Satan, they undoubtedly raise havoc and in their wake disease and destruction. Misconceived and shrouded in mystery, these winged shadows of night challenge our senses and cause us to re-evaluate an otherwise seemingly rational natural world."

Adams' book is generally reader friendly and is dominated by dozens of color photographs and illustrations. He keeps a scientific slant to his writing but doesn't usually overwhelm readers with too much jargon. Utahns will find his book particularly interesting because he concentrates on bats of the Rocky Mountains, where 31 identified species live.

According to Adams, bats live to be as old as 35 years; they harbor few diseases and are exceptionally clean mammals; they give birth to one offspring a year; they pollinate plants; and they devour tons of insects each year.

Bats are believed to have come from a tree-shrew creature originating 50 million years ago. Their slender structure and unusual wings make them the acrobats of the air and allow them access to cracks and tiny places inaccessible to birds. Their specialized feet allow them to sleep effortlessly while hanging on a perch.

When flying, their heart may beat up to 1,200 times a minute, meaning they require high-energy food. Having the shortest intestinal tract of any mammal also means they can digest food quickly and then fly away.

The term "blind as a bat" is a misnomer, according to Adams, as all bats usually see very well. They also have a type of natural sonar that allows them to navigate at night, as well as "heat pits" that facilitate the finding of prey.

Some bats in the Rocky Mountain region are migratory, as they spend the winter in southern Utah and Arizona. Adams offers a "field guide" to bats of the Rocky Mountains that includes almost 50 special characteristics.

The photographs of each species are excellent, though somewhat unnerving due to their monstrous appearance. The obvious downside to the paperback book? It's pricey — $55, although it is printed on slick, heavy paper.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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