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An Illinois Couple Aims To Clean Up The Reputation Of Skunks And Bats

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Bats are some of the most mysterious creatures in the world. They’re also some of the most threatened, under-researched, and misunderstood.

In south suburban New Lenox, Sharon and Dan Peterson have made it their mission in life to destigmatize bats and raise awareness to their plight. The couple started an education program called Incredible Bats, and they’ve acquired seven Egyptian fruit bats and two African straw-colored bats, which they bring to schools, libraries, and conventions. They also own a domesticated skunk, another animal they consider to be misunderstood. 

The Petersons brought their bats and skunk to the studio to talk to Worldview host Jerome McDonnell. Here are some interview highlights.


On why Bella, the skunk, didn’t stink up the studio

Jerome McDonnell: Your skunk is a little different. It’s brownish. 

Dan Peterson: She is brown and white. In breeding, they can bring out these colors. If you saw a wild skunk close up, you might see a little bit of brown sprinkled in. 

We got Bella from a breeder in Michigan. Skunks are illegal to own in the state of Illinois, but because we have a license for our bats, we can have the skunk. 

McDonnell: And how do you get the stink out of them? Because, obviously, Bella does not stink. 

Sharon Peterson: The breeder does that when they’re a week old. The two sacks are in the anus, and they just push back on the anus, and they expose them and pluck them out. They do it when they’re a week old, so there’s no surgery involved. It doesn’t harm them at all. But once the glands are removed, they can’t grow back again. 

McDonnell: Are skunks good pets? Are they affectionate? They seem like they’re anti-social animals. 

Sharon Peterson: They make really good pets. Illinois does not allow them as pets, but all around us — in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky — allows them as pets. They do make good pets. They go in a litter box. They sleep in a doggy bed. And our skunks are not caged. They just run around our house. And they mostly sleep. 


On how most local bats are insect eaters 

Sharon Peterson: In North America, we have 41 species of insect eaters. The myotis bats — myotis means “mouse eared” — are huge. They can have about a 30-inch wingspan. They eat mosquitoes. They eat a diet that includes a lot of aquatic insects. They can eat about 1,200 an hour. 

Brown bats are what we call a farmer’s friend. They’re crop pest eaters. So when you think about bats in the United States, two big reasons why we want them around is because of mosquito control, definitely, but crop pests is really the most important job that they do. 

It’s estimated that they save us, like, $3.7 billion in pesticide usage. So for anyone who wants to go green and anyone who wants to go organic, we definitely need bats around.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the "play" button to listen to the entire interview for this segment, which was produced by Julian Hayda.

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