Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Biodiversity in woody agriculture crops...

It's a basic part of the concept of woody agriculture that the biodiversity possible in a permanent hazel, or chestnut, etc., field is going to be far higher than in any row crop monoculture.  We just now had a truly spectacular demonstration of that.

While serving as the "bagger" on the hazel picking machine in the Illinois field; I suddenly saw something odd come down the chute with the hazel clusters.  "MOUSE!" my brain yelled- I'd never seen one come through with the nuts, but in fact the deer mice (Peromyscus sp.) not only climb up in the hazel bushes to eat nuts, but sometime build nests there, renovating old bird nests.

I automatically grabbed it and threw it behind the harvester- and only then did my brain register- "wings."  That was a bat - not a mouse.  A bat?  In a hazel bush- at noon?  Oh, yes.

We stopped the machine, got off and searched- I thought it likely the bat would be stunned; probably desperately hurt, going through a harvest machine is not what those tiny bones were designed for.  Brandon found it- on the ground, looking exactly like a dead leaf.

I worked with mammals in grad school- this is a male Eastern Red Bat; they're solitary, and "tree" bats, not cave bats.  They belong in the hazels; but this is the first one we've ever seen.  I've had practice handling bats, and held this one correctly; bare hands on feet, glove to keep teeth occupied.

He was stunned- but in fact I couldn't find anything broken.  He gradually got over the stun as I held him and we hurriedly took photos- who'd ever believe it, otherwise?  As he started to squirm, the hazard that those sharp needle teeth would reach my bare fingers grew, and I had no desire to discuss rabies shots with anyone- so I released him...

And he flew off.  Perfectly.  Completely unhurt.

So now in addition to the frogs doing our insect control for us- we can add resident bats.  No spray; permanent habitat.  It works.

Come and see in Minnesota this Saturday!  The hazels are ripe; we'll be running the harvester, and showing the hazels thriving- even now growing fast-  in this drought that has killed so much of the local corn.


  1. I should just point out that this was a lot of fun. I located him by sound, rather than sight; after a minute or so he was making a few little annoyed-bat noises. _might_ have found him by sight, but maybe not; there were quite a few dead hazel leaves on the ground already.