PART I: Bats, Mosquitoes, and Dollars
It seems at first glance rather singular that long ago some one had not thought of and demonstrated the value of the common little bat, and placed it on the high pedestal in the domain of preventive medicine which it so richly deserves. But when we consider, as said in the preface of this volume, the unpopularity of such work, coupled with much derision and many accusations of being "batty," plus exceedingly hard and expensive work, that combination will account for the delay in our knowledge of its remarkable habits, of which habits we can take advantage to a complete usufruct.
Prom time immemorial the bat has been considered a "thing of evil." The ancient poets and painters, while giving the benign spirits and angels the beautiful white, symmetrical wings of birds, for contrast, or in obedience to the poetic principle, gave to the malignant spirits and demons the dark and sombre wings of a bat; hence this truly valuable creature has always had a most unenviable reputation, plutonic in character. The little Catholic child in its catechism book, and the Protestant child in its Sunday-school book, see the pictures of angels with the beautiful bird-wings, and the devil and all of his kind with bat-wings. It, therefore, is perfectly natural that deep-seated prejudice against this beneficent creature should exist in the tender mind, and at a time when it leaves the deepest and most ineradicable imprint.
The bat is given recognition in the Bible, but again unenviable, as it is classed as "unclean." That recognition is found in Leviticus, 11th Chapter, 19th verse, and in Deuteronomy, 14th Chapter, 18th verse.
In the small readers and fable books some kindly mention is made of the bat's distant cousin, the mouse; where the mother mouse warns her babies about the cheese in the trap; how the little mouse gnawed in twain the strands of the rope that held the lion captive and so liberated the king of beasts, etc. Has any one ever written or said one kind word for the little bat? Yet the little bat does not gnaw its way into our homes, destroy and consume our food, ruin our clothes and furniture or the piano, or bring us fleas and with them, perhaps, the bubonic plague, but while we are asleep and unconscious of danger, our little friend is protecting us by working all night long seeking and destroying one of our greatest enemies, that most malevolent of insects, the malaria mosquito.
There are perhaps very few or none of Nature's creatures that offer more anomalies, or present more difficulties for study, than the common bat. The author began to investigate these creatures in the year 1900, though the idea had been conceived the year previous. About that time he was at work on the practical application of a theory he had evolved, viz., that smallpox, then considered so "easy-catching," so infectious, and so contagious that even touching the clothing or breathing the air of a room occupied by a person afflicted with the disease was equivalent to acquiring it, was not so transmitted; that the panic a case of smallpox occasions and the resultant quarantine are entirely unnecessary and uncalled for, as the disease, like malaria, is insect-born, and carried only by bedbugs, and that the pitting or pocking can be prevented.
Smallpox being essentially a disease of the winter, and bats being dormant, or hibernating during that time, the author considered himself rather fortunate in that the two problems he had laid out for himself possessed such happy peculiarities, because he could engage in the study of smallpox and bedbugs in the winter, and of malaria and bats during the summer.
The smallpox-bedbug work in a few winters had reached that degree of perfection to warrant its being brought to the attention of the medical profession of San Antonio, as represented by the Bexar County Medical Society, on which occasion the author was honored by being given a rising vote of thanks. The Society also appointed a standing committee to continue the research, which committee is in existence today. Some day the author will publish the bedbug work in full.
The bat work, however, was not only of far greater importance, but much more fascinating, on account of the difficulties presented, as working in the darkness and serenity of the night gave it an air bordering on the fantastic.
In addition to all these years of valuable time contributed to the study of the matter, the investigation has cost many, many thousands of dollars.
The proposition of the cultivation of bats has two separate and distinct values. One of these is hygienic, the other commercial; but these two values are inseparable, and the practical application and demonstration of them has been accomplished by a small bat-roost which the author and owner intended to serve only as a means of demonstrating the fact that bats, like bees, could be colonized and cultivated, but never even dreaming at first that such a small structure could achieve such astonishing results.
The Government sends its agents into the most remote parts of the world to find some insect that preys upon the parasitic insects infesting fruit trees, thereby saving thousands of dollars to the fruit industry; but in the little bat we have right at home a friend whose wonderful habits we can take advantage of in the saving of precious human lives, and, at the same time, line our pockets with gold.
Before entering upon the work proving the two values mentioned, and with the view of making this little book a study as well as interesting reading, the author has divided the said work into four parts, which he has termed "Allegations." How well the allegations are proved, or what portion of the work appeals most to the reader, is left entirely to the latter.