Rocks and bats: SHAPPS hosts a pair of speakers

Vicki Hood
Posted 6/12/24

HARTVILLE — The Sunrise Historic and Prehistoric Preservation Society had a full house last Thursday evening to listen to a pair of guest speakers on two very different topics. Following the …

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Rocks and bats: SHAPPS hosts a pair of speakers


HARTVILLE — The Sunrise Historic and Prehistoric Preservation Society had a full house last Thursday evening to listen to a pair of guest speakers on two very different topics.
Following the group’s annual meeting, Sunrise owner John Voight introduced local rockhound and lapidarist Bob Hood who spent about 45 minutes showing samples of minerals and rocks found in the local area as well as around the state of Wyoming. 
As he pulled individual rocks from a bucket and held them up, Hood told a brief story about each of the specimens, then passed them out through the audience so all could see them up close.
Hood explained how copper was first discovered near Guernsey, approximately where the office of Martin-Marietta Quarry stands now. But even more was found in the hills south of Hartville—numerous claims were staked all along Whalen Canyon Road and miners cashed in, taking the copper ore to a smelter that was located on the east side of the North Platte River, just across from the present-day area known as Kelly Park.
Hood also told about finding Youngite, a rock formation that is found in only one place in the world--a cave located northwest of Lake Guernsey on the North Platte River. Youngite is a rare variety of quartz (silicon dioxide) that is a type of agatized brecciated jasper with a coating of druzy quartz and chalcedony. Considered rare due to its limited availability, its primary color is mauve with white quartz interspersed, and has a hardness of seven on the Mohs Hardness Scale. Sold by the pound, a large piece with good coloration can drive the price well into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
Hood also fielded plenty of questions throughout his presentation. 
In response to someone asking how he got started in the hobby, Hood said it came from a need for something to do with his children on weekends following a divorce. “I wanted to find something the three of us could share that we all enjoyed. I bought a small rock tumbler and we started tumbling rocks. From there, I added a small saw, and then a larger one, and soon we found ourselves making Christmas presents for family members. From there it just seemed to grow.”
Hood has shared his hobby and talents with locals young and old over the years. He’s taught several sessions of lapidary classes for the school’s adult education programs and has spoken to Guernsey-Sunrise students both in his shop and at the school. He’s helped others get started in the hobby and had tables at many holiday bazaars and rock swaps in the area.
It’s not unusual to have someone from other areas of Wyoming or even other states stop by his home to ask for directions to a particular rock-hunting site. Wyoming has numerous places that provide a rock hunter with plenty of opportunity to bring home some very nice material to work.
His shop is full of outstanding specimens that he has acquired over the years as well as finished jewelry he has made, including belt buckles, bola ties, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and more. He doesn’t have specific hours of business, but he spends most afternoons crafting, sorting or reading…about rocks.
His sense of humor is always just under the surface but breaks through now and then.  
During Thursday night’s program, someone asked him what his favorite rock was to work with, and he quickly answered, saying, “Whichever one I happen to have in my hand.”

And after 50 years of experience, that adds up to an awfully lot of favorites!
And then…Bat Woman was in the building!  
Following Hood’s presentation, the subject matter then turned to something much different as Julia Yearout, a grad student from the University of Wyoming, took the mike to share her experiences and what she has learned about…bats.
Not the kind made from wood you see on the baseball diamond—we’re talking the real deal, Halloween-style, swooping, flying, bug-eating bats.
With a clear enthusiasm for her work and an obvious mastery of the subject, Julia quickly had the attention of the room as she began talking about the importance of a creature often misunderstood and maligned in the public eye.  
A native of a small community in northwest Georgia, Julia’s interest in bats came about thanks to her father’s work as a cave rescue instructor. Julia would often accompany her dad on his trips required for the job and she was taken with the little animals that filled so many of the caves they visited.
Julia came to Wyoming in 2022 after graduating in 2021 with her Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Resources and Wildlife Biology at the University of Georgia. After working a series of part-time and seasonal positions in Georgia, Iowa and Wyoming, she found herself working under contract for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as a Bat Technician from February 2022 to June 2023 in Lander, Wyoming. 
She began her graduate student studies at the University of Wyoming last August and is now working on her master’s research to focus on the behavioral and population ecology of Townsend’s Big-eared bats across the state of Wyoming with an interest in understanding how anthropogenic stressors (pollution or environmental change originating in human activity) 
could affect bat populations in the future.
She spent the summer of 2023 working specifically around the Guernsey, Hartville and Sunrise area studying the bat population.
Julia explained the reasons for her concerns for bats and the reason she chose to do this as her master’s project as well as the importance of the studies she and others are doing across the country. It is clear this means a great deal to her and it should mean a great deal to all of us.
Since 2006, the bat population in the United States has suffered substantial life losses due to an illness first recognized that year in New York. 
Whitenose Syndrome was discovered in the Black Hills for the first time in 2018 and Wyoming recorded its first cases in 2021 in the Devil’s Tower area. The audience listened intently as she went into the details about the illness and its effect on bats.
Whitenose Syndrome is a fungus that attacks and digests the bats’ skin in on their bodies and wings. One of the obvious signs of the disease is a white, fuzzy area around the muzzles of dead or dying bats, thus the name Whitenose Syndrome.
Much as bears do, bats spend most of their winter months in torpor which is a lighter form of hibernation because their primary food source of insects is not available to them during the cold months. But Whitenose Syndrome awakens these bats and with no source of food, they lose the stored body fat they’ve accumulated to sustain them through the winter, and they starve to death. The fungus also affects their wing tissue and can affect their hydration and electrolyte balance which could also be a cause of death.
Bats are an extremely important part of our ecosystem, and their major contribution is the control of insects. Julia explained that a bat can consume thousands of insects in a night. This cuts down on the quantity of pesticides farmers must use on their crops, which is better for our foods and our water systems.
Julia dispelled some of the negative lore often associated with bats:
While it is true that bats can carry rabies, they DO NOT ALL have rabies and less than one percent of bats have the illness. 
Bats ARE NOT blind. Their eyes are smaller, which lends itself to poorer eyesight, but they can see. They are using an echolocation system to navigate and find food in the dark.  They emit a high-frequency sound and listen for the echoes which are ultrasound waves that bounce off the environment and return to the bat’s ears.
Bats DO NOT purposely fly into peoples’ hair. Because they live in caves and this is often where people observe them, the restricted space can make it seem like they are flying directly at your head.
There is ONLY ONE of 1,300 species of bats that drink the blood of mammals which is the Common Vampire Bat found in parts of Mexico as well as Central and South America.
Julia also brought slides to show some of the places she and her colleagues have worked. Most people have not ever really examined a bat closely because the bats’ lifestyles are not conducive to providing very many opportunities for interaction with humans. They sleep during the day and come out in the evening, usually around dusk when insect activity begins to increase. But they fly so fast and in such an erratic pattern that watching bats perform is difficult. 
Julia is a dedicated advocate for bats and her master’s work will no doubt help the cause to deal with and hopefully find a cure for Whitenose Syndrome to protect all bats. It is important work and Julia plans to be back in our area again, finding a way to save our bats.