Bats, snakes, turtles, other wildlife make Wright-Patt their home

Greg Colwell, a former base biologist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, wrangles a Massasauga snake on base as part of a survey from an area known as the War Fighter Training Center. (Courtesy photo)
Greg Colwell, a former base biologist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, wrangles a Massasauga snake on base as part of a survey from an area known as the War Fighter Training Center. (Courtesy photo)

It’s a given that personnel, both military and civilian, are the military’s greatest assets.

However, according to Darryn Warner, 88th Civil Engineering Group, natural resources program manager, and William Williams, 88th Civil Engineering Squadron, pest control manager, some important wildlife, snakes and insects also call Wright-Patterson Air Force Base home, and they play an important role in balancing the ecosystem.


“Here at Wright Patterson, we are lucky to have a very diverse population of wildlife that calls the base home,” Warner said. “Because some of these creatures are very rarely seen, and a few of the species are endangered, [our office] provides special attention to prevent them from becoming extinct.”

According to Warner, the Indiana bat is a federally listed endangered animal that has made its home at Wright-Patterson.

“Indiana bats [migrate] here during the summer between May and August,” Warner said.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources says, “Bats are beneficial and important components of [the] ecosystem [by eating] night-flying insects, including crop pests.”

Additionally, while driving, walking or running on base, one might come across at least two species of turtles. There’s the snapping turtle and the eastern spiny softshell turtle. These two turtles help balance the aquatic environment because they are scavengers.

“The snapping turtle can deliver a painful bite,” said Williams. “However, the spiny softshell has long claws and can stretch his neck out and behind himself to deliver a painful bite also (even if picked up from behind), and they are both excellent swimmers.”

Adding to the myriad wildlife and reptiles, there are many different species of insects at Wright-Patterson. One species in particular is the wheel assassin bug, which is a true predator. But they are also beneficial bugs because they eat pests (and beneficial wildlife, too). Even their nymphs deliver a bite that will bring a person to his or her knees or to the nearest emergency room!

“The wheel bug is the largest of the 150 or so species of assassin bugs. Wheel bugs will attack larger insects like grasshoppers and large caterpillars,” according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

As an example of the pain inflicted by the wheel bug, a coworker who had been warned about gardening without gloves was bitten by one at her home, and she described the pain as feeling like she was being burned or cut. It was like nothing she ever felt before while she screamed and writhed in her yard.

Warner said there are also snakes on Wright-Patterson. The eastern Massasauga rattlesnake (EMR) is venomous and can be found throughout most of the Great Lakes regions of Ohio and are listed as endangered by the state of Ohio.

“They are approximately two to three feet long with thick gray bodies, and they have a row of large rounded spots down their back and small rattle on the ends of their tails,” said Warner.

He added, “The EMR is non-aggressive, but they will strike if provoked, but we haven’t seen any for some time.”

The Skywrighter reported that in 2010, during some field work here in conjunction with a survey being conducted, a smooth green snake was found. According to the article it said, “Smooth green snakes have not been documented in southwest Ohio since 1871.”

“When there’s a survey taking place on the base, we will place cover boxes in certain areas around the base, and it’s important that the boxes aren’t touched,” said Warner. “Disturbing these boxes can negatively impact the study, and there might be something dangerous inside.”

Warner said that personnel here are discouraged from feeding the wildlife. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources states, “While many think it is humane to feed wildlife, it can hurt more than help. Animals will lose their hunting instinct and become dependent on humans feeding.” Additionally, “Feeding bread to ducks and geese is ‘terrible’ for their digestion, [making them] vulnerable to outbreaks of botulism when artificially fed.”

“Residents in base housing can, however, put up bird feeders,” said Warner.

For more information about wildlife on the base, contact Warner at 937-257-4857.

About the Author