Join Kidspace in celebrating international Bat Week, a tribute to some of our most remarkable and important nocturnal neighbors.
You might not notice them during the day, but bats live all around us, roosting in small groups under freeway overpasses, on rocky hillsides, in attics and abandoned buildings, and high up in the fronds of palm trees. At twilight, you can watch bats flit across the sky in virtually all areas of Los Angeles, including the wide-open spaces around Kidspace.
Our friend Miguel Ordeñana, a mammal expert at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, has identified at least 12 species of bats that live right here in our community (Miguel also provided the photographs featured in this bat video). The most common bat in our area is the Mexican free-tailed bat, an insectivore that helps control populations of mosquitos and other insects.
In honor of our super fly neighbors, we offer activities to explore and celebrate these amazing flying mammals.
Portrait of a Bat
During this time of year, bats are often portrayed as scary and sinister, but up close, many bats are downright adorable! In this activity, round up some found items from a nature walk and use them to create portraits of your favorite local bat.
We are big fans of nature play and natural materials here at Kidspace; they provide a wide range of sensory experiences with different textures and scents, and they come in interesting shapes and sizes that leave lots of room for artistic interpretation. Plus, natural materials can be crunched, snapped, curled and more to create just the right shape, size, and texture for your work of art.
Here is what you need to get started:
- Picture of your favorite local bat. You can download some ideas from our Kidspace Bat Portrait
- Variety of natural materials (sticks, leaves, twigs, nuts, beans, seed pods, etc.)
- Blank paper – color of your choice to use as your background!
- White glue – if you would like to adhere your natural items to the background
- Choose your favorite local bat. You can use the PDF pics above in the PDF as inspiration to print and reference at your art table. We selected a Big Brown Bat, but you should choose whoever you like.
- Layout the natural materials you would like to use as your media. You can choose to freestyle construction or use a piece of paper as a backdrop (we used black).
- Arrange and form the natural items as needed to create your portrait. One way to get started is to make the outlines of the face or features. Another approach might be to work starting from one side of the face and moving across to the other. Some portraitists prefer viewing their subject upside down, which seems just about right for a bat.
- If you like, glue down your materials once they are arranged to your liking. Or, take a picture of your portrait, and reuse your materials!
Going Batty for More?
- Create a portrait gallery. Try making another bat neighbor and put together a collection of bat portraits. If you finish the ones on our inspiration page, check out more species over at the Backyard Bat Survey by Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
- Look for bats! They’re hard to see when it’s really dark, but if you watch the sky at dusk you’re likely to spot a few. Bats come out right after sundown to hunt insects, and they prefer a dry, not very windy night. For your best bet, look in an area with little light pollution. If you live near water, watch there! Bats might swoop down for a drink.
- Check out this fun bat song!
Listen Like a Bat
One reason the bats here in Los Angeles County are so helpful is that they eat tons of bugs, including mosquitos and insects that eat our crops. But as Shel Silverstein points out this poem, bats like the dark:
The baby bat
Screamed out in fright,
‘Turn on the dark,
I’m afraid of the light.’
So how do bats find their food if it’s dark out? You may have heard the expression ‘blind as a bat’ but this is not a very accurate phrase. Bats are nocturnal animals (animals active mostly at night) and have special eyes to help them see in the dark.
In addition to their natural night vision, bats use echolocation to help them navigate and hunt in the dark. Echolocation uses vibrations from sounds (echoes) bouncing off objects to determine key information about distance, placement, and proximity (location). It’s kind of like an internal game of ‘Marco Polo.’
Even though we can’t see sound waves, we can use a few simple objects to help us feel them, and give us a better idea of how echolocation works. Explorations like this provide kids with a tool that allows them to explore invisible parts of their world in a more tangible way. It also supports cognitive and social-emotional development and builds a deeper appreciation of the creatures we share our planet with as they experience and examine similarities and differences between them and animals.
- Metal spoon
- String that is about 4 feet in length
- Cut two pieces of string so that they are about 2 feet in length. Tie one end of each string to the handle of the metal spoon, so you have two loose strings attached to the spoon.
- Put the two ends of the strings on the tips of your two pointer fingers and put them into your ears along with the string.
- With the spoon hanging in front of you, gently knock it on the edge of the table
- You should hear a ‘gong’ sound from the spoon and feel the vibrations in your ears!
Bats send out a sound wave through their mouth and nose. When that sound wave hits a nearby object, it gets bounced (or echoed) back to the bat’s ears. Bats use this information to help tell them how close or far they are to something, without having to rely on eyesight alone!
In this experiment the strings and spoons help us feel sound waves. They travel through the air and bounce off of objects like the counter. The sound waves then get echoed back to our ears. For animals like bats that use echolocation, those vibrations help them determine where an object is!
HEAR For More Ways to Learn?
- Try this other fun way to explore sound and vibrations using a balloon and ear plugs!
- Inflate a balloon to about the size of a basketball.
- Turn on some music and place earplugs in your ears (you will notice that the music sounds very muffled)
- Grip the balloon – do you feel the vibrations from the music?
- Bats help us in many ways, not just by eating bugs. Check out this cool cookbook from Bat Week to cook up some yummy treats made with bat-dependent foods!
Add a beautiful paper bat garland to your Halloween decor! It’s a fun and easy way to celebrate our local bat celebrities; we used a Mexican free-tailed bat and a Hoary bat as inspiration.
Crafts like this celebrate things we love, and are a great way to spend time with those we love. Kids show big brain and social-emotional benefits from time spent socializing with friends and family. They also practice fine motor skills while cutting and tracing, which sets the stage for letter formation.
- Several pieces of construction paper (or other paper of your choice)
- Kidspace Bat Garland Template
- Pencil or pen
- Download the bat outlines and print on cardstock (single-sided).
- Cut out each bat, these will be your template to trace!
- To use, fold construction paper in half, and use a pencil or pen to trace the template. Be sure to place the body of the bat along the folded edge!
- Cut along the traced outline, then unfold to reveal your whole bat! (for more advanced crafters, you may choose to give your bat more defined feet – we kept the outline simplified so crafters of all ages could participate!)
- Tape your finished bats to the string – you can string them side by side, or stacked top and bottom for a vertical garland!
- Want to try for something more advanced? You can also use this template for a classic accordion style garland too!
- Fold your paper into an accordion – use a wide fold to accommodate the template, and only do as many folds as you think your scissors will be able to handle! If you want a very long accordion, you may want to tape several pieces of paper together.
- Use the template to trace the bat – remembering to place the body along the fold, AND this time, the wing has to touch the other side. You may choose to print your template at a reduced size, since this approach can use more paper.
- Carefully cut, watch out for shifty paper!
- Unfold to reveal your bat garland!
To view all our Halloween blogs and more, click here.
Bat photos and sounds courtesy of Backyard Bat Survey by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.