Demystifying the mysterious flying mammal

They get caught in your hair. They are blind. They suck blood. Those are just some of the myths that surround the mysterious bat. Vampire movies, urban myths, and just plain misinformation based on fear have caused society’s negative and fearful view on bats. In reality, besides being a pivotal part of our local ecology, bats are a sensitive mammal whose populations are at disastrously low levels.

The sheer number of stories and myths involving the bat make this one of the most misunderstood animals around. One interpretation of the bat is that of the Native Americans. Many tribes viewed the bat as a very powerful symbol of transformation. The bat spends months in a hibernation cave of darkness and is able to emerge the next spring, renewed and refreshed. Bats bring with them the blessing of change and transformation.

Here are some common myths about bats, and the truth behind them.

Myth: All bats carry rabies.

Truth: Actually, only about 0.5% of bats carry rabies. Even so, it is important to be safe around bats. If you find one, do NOT touch it. Although the percentage of bats that actually have rabies is small, people are more likely to find bats that are sick because they may be lying on the ground or be too close to populated areas. Sometimes we find bats in our homes.  Bats that are found in the eaves of your house in the spring are females in a maternity colony. By the time the fall is over, the families will have moved on to hibernation caves for the winter. The wintertime is the best time to plug up holes in your house to prevent bats from entering. If it is done in the spring, it can result in closing the young bats off from their mother.


Myth: Bats will fly in your hair.

Truth: When bats swoop rapidly up and down, there are times when they could come inches from your head. But once you understand how a bat hunts, you will realize that bats know exactly where they are going, down to the inch. Bats hunt using a specialized type of radar, called echolocation. They emit a rapid succession of high pitched sounds, and those sounds bounce off any surfaces surrounding as they use their large ears to trap and analyze the location of the object. If there is an insect an inch above your head, a bat can swoop down and grab that with great accuracy. If there is a bat flying around in your house, do not try to catch it. Simply open the doors and windows and let the bat fly out. It will eventually look for food elsewhere.


Myth: Bats suck blood.

Truth: There are no species of bats in our area that suck blood. Bats get their bloodthirsty reputation from three species, called vampire bats, that live in Latin America. These bats use their super-sharp teeth to puncture small holes in animals. They will sit on the animal and slowly lick the blood that comes out. About 70 percent of bat species eat insects, and a smaller percentage eats fruit. Our local bats, including the little brown bat and the big brown bat, eat a great deal of insects, up to 50 percent of their body weight per night. Having bats in your backyard really is the best insect control!  


Myth: Bats will be around forever.

Truth: Our local bats are in a perilous time right now, due to something called white-nose syndrome. Biologists first discovered massive die-offs in bats that have a white fungus around their noses in caves in New York State. Because bats hibernate in large colonies of hundreds of bats in a small cave, white-nose syndrome has spread like wildfire in New York’s bat population. The majority of New York State’s bats hibernate in just five caves and mines. Because of this, a decrease of as much as 97% in bat populations has been seen in areas where white-nose syndrome is present.

Right now the future for bats is very uncertain.  It is my hope that bats can live up to their Native American reputation, and show us that they can transform from this period of peril and emerge a stronger species.

Melissa Blodgett Vanek June 15, 2011 at 01:15 PM
This is the first spring I haven't seen bats flying over my house at dusk. So sad. I've noticed an increase in mosquitoes as well. The dragonflies keep them at bay when the sun is out, but when it's not, forget being outside!


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