Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Batman reflects his namesake in North Carolina

Batman reflects his namesake in North Carolina
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Having the characteristics of a bat might not be useful unless you are Batman. You certainly would not want to be a “dingbat”, or “an old bat,” or “have bats in your belfry,” or “be blind as a bat.”
When Batman comics appeared in the 1940s, the hero took on some of the traits of the mammal of the Chiroptera order which means “hand-winged.” He was stealth and intelligent, worked in the dark, and was a friend to people.
An abundance of mystery and lore surrounds this creature which is so helpful to humanity. People are naturally suspicious of an animal that flies in the dark, sleeps upside-down, and has a menacing appearance. Classic tales like Dracula promoted the idea that bats were evil creatures.
Most bats eat insects, nectar, pollen, or fruit, but three species do require blood meals and are referred to as vampire bats. From that reality came the myth that bats like to bite people and often carry rabies. In North Carolina, you are much more likely to run into a raccoon, skunk, or fox that is rabid than a bat.
Of the 17 species that live in North Carolina, seven are endangered. Bat Cave in Henderson County is an unincorporated community which takes its name from an actual cave which is the largest granite fissure cave in North America.
The 300 by 85 foot cave is the home of the endangered Indiana bat and is owned by the Nature Conservancy which works to protect the animals. People are not allowed to enter the cave, and hiking near the cave is prohibited because bats have been greatly affected by white noise syndrome.
Bats which are nocturnal are not truly blind but like most mammals do have difficulty seeing in the dark. They use an internal radar system called echolocation to maneuver. By vocalizing clicks which bounce back to them from surfaces, the bats can determine where to fly.
One thousand species of bats make up one-fifth of all mammal species worldwide. They are the only mammals that have true sustained flight. Other animals, such as the flying squirrel, actually glide.
A colony of 1,000 bats can consume 22 pounds of insects in one night. One bat can eat 25 percent of its weight in one meal. That would equal about 36 pounds of food for a person weighing 150 pounds. They eat far more insects than purple martins, and are also helpful with pollination and seed distribution.
The small creatures are predators of the hornworm moth which can devastate tobacco crops in North Carolina. Peru is a major exporter of bat waist or guano, an extremely effective fertilizer because of its high nitrogen, phosphate and potassium content.
Like so many organisms today, bats are victims of the world’s population increase and other environmental factors. People can help by installing bat boxes around their homes and planting native species which attract insects for the bats to eat. Like Batman, they are not our enemies.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The wind: A powerful, productive force to serve man

The wind: A powerful, productive force to serve man
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
I can whistle, or I can howl. You can’t see me, but you can see my effects. You can feel me as I rock you in a swing. I help you play with a kite. I can be an enemy or a friend. Who am I? I am the wind.
Egyptians made the earliest know wind powered boats in approximately 3,500 BC., and by 200 BC, windmills were being used in China to pump water. In 600 AD Persians built windmills to grind grain into flour. During the 1300’s, the fields in the Netherlands were drained with the help of windmills, and France used them to irrigate their farms.
American settlers in the west pumped water using windmills. Six million of the devices were built across America by the late 1800’s. Charles Brush built a large windmill that produced 12 Kilowatts of electricity in Cleveland in 1888. Electric wind turbines eventually began to be used in Europe and America to provide power to rural areas.
Progress continued to be made, and today, 70 percent of the world’s wind energy is produced in Europe. Germany, Denmark, and Spain led the way by passing laws to encourage greater use of wind energy. In 2007, the U.S. wind energy increased by 45 percent and in 2010, the offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, was approved by the federal government.
Wind is really a form of solar energy because it is caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the earth’s surface, and the rotation of the earth. When the wind is put to work, the turbine converts the kinetic energy into mechanical power and finally into electrical power.
As the wind turns the blades, the shaft which is connected to a generator turns producing electricity which is transmitted through lines to a substation. Later it goes to homes and businesses where it is used.
Wind energy is renewable unlike coal, oil, gas, and other fossil fuels which take thousands of years to form. It is also clean and does not contribute to global warming which makes it healthier.
With the concern about energy resources growing worldwide, wind energy has become the fastest growing source of electricity production. Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Oregon is the largest in the U.S. and produces enough electricity for 235,000 homes.
Wind farms are not without their critics. Some people think the turbines, which can be as high as a 20 story building with 200 foot long blades, numbering in the hundreds are ugly. They consider them a detractor to the beauty of the landscape. Others complain about the noise the machines make. Many people decry the loss of birds and bats that are killed by the blades.
If you would like to learn more about wind energy and its production in our area, attend Port Discover’s Science CafĂ© program on Thursday, November 14 at 7p.m. at Montero’s Restaurant. Craig Poff of Iberdola Renewables in Pennsylvania will be the guest speaker.
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