In a news release issued Monday by Sen. Sam Slom’s office, the state lawmaker (R, Diamond Head, Kahala, Hawaii Kai) said: "The ōpe‘ape‘a is worthy of the title” because“ it has been here for so long, and faithfully provides free pest control services to us all. Most importantly, this bipartisan effort to elevate the bat's status to state land mammal will increase awareness of the environmental issues affecting its survival."
The Nature Conservancy has pointed out that the ōpe‘ape‘a is remarkable in that it flew 2,500 miles from North America to the most isolated islands in the Pacific, and manage to thrive. Fossils indicate that the bat was present in Hawaii 10,000 years ago.
In its testimony on the measure, the Nature Conservancy said, "The Hawaiian hoary bat is truly a wonder. It can fly. It can echolocate. It has the ability to enter torpor (a limited hibernation) to cope with periods of food (i.e., insect) shortages or inclement weather."
Here are some additional facts about the bat.
>> It’s Hawaii's only native land mammal, and is a subspecies found only in Hawaii.
>> While nocturnal, there’s no evidence of vampirical activity in the species.
>> It eats mosquitoes, moths, beetles, termites, flies and other insects. A single Hawaiian hoary bat can consume 40 percent of its body weight in bugs in a single night.
>> It's listed as an endangered species. Deforestation and collision with structures such as wind turbines and barbed wire fences pose a threat to the population.
>> The bat uses echolocation to hunt, meaning it creates ultrasonic pulses in its throat and emits them through its mouth or nose. The pulses then bounce off insect prey, transmitting the location of the prey to the bat.
>> The bat can fly up to 60 mph and is one of few animals capable of sustained flight.
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HONOLULU — It was all smiles as the little hoary bat was granted full honors.
It didn't hurt that the cutest body-double in a bat costume added "star power" to the historic event.
The event also marked the governor's first ceremonial bill signing.
The stroke of a bat pen marked the elevation of an endangered Hawaiian creature to the official land mammal.
"It does help raise awareness, especially for our young people about some things that get overlooked," said Gov. David Ige.
And it all happened on a special day.
"Here is the governor signing it on Earth Day. And we are showing the importance of these animals and our environment and things that we take for granted that really are important," said Sen. Sam Slom.
It took five tries before the Senate's lone Republican succeeded in getting bi-partisan support for the special designation.
Some might say the champion for the Ope'ape'a even shares bat tendencies: tenacious and solitary.
The Hoary bat is believed to have flown thousands of miles to develop into a Hawaiian subspecies.
"The Hoary bat is unique in that it was strong enough to fly from California and persevere here. So it's really a unique animal," said Honolulu Zoo's Ben Okimoto.
Most recently, the bat's habitat has come under scrutiny.
Some scientists fear the new addition of wind turbines to the islands landscape is honing in on the nesting area of bats.
Environmental studies for large solar farms and even the intrusion of ziplines in forested areas are flagging the need to tread carefully when it comes to clearing tall trees.
"It roosts by itself in the forest, so when you go out to study them, the researchers have a hard time because of the numbers. They are so scattered. So ,its going to take more effort and more time to learn about them," Okimoto said.
The Three Ring Ranch, a Big Island animal sanctuary has nursed many an injured bat back to health.
Their most recent resident was released back into the wild three years ago.
Elusive and endangered, but the Hoary bat is now in the spotlight.