Mark Your Calendars! The Bats are Coming!
Bats are a mysterious and peculiar group of animals that spend their days in dark and secluded roosts and nights flying and hunting. Perhaps partly because of their nocturnal habits and preference for “creepy” places, bats have long been feared and despised by humans. Much of this fear stems from certain myths and misconceptions about bats that have widely become accepted as facts. In reality, bats pose little threat to humans while playing an important role in our ecosystem and are more deserving of our gratitude than disgust.
The biggest misconception and probably the greatest source of fear of bats is the idea that most of them carry rabies. However, less than one half of one percent of bats carries the disease and rabies is not easily transmitted from an infected animal to a person. Also, unlike many other animals with rabies, bats rarely become aggressive when infected with the virus and will usually become paralyzed and die quietly. For this reason, you should never handle a bat that is found on the ground.
Other misunderstandings about bats include that they suck blood and are flying rodents. Only 3 of the 1,200 bats species found worldwide actually feed on blood, but they are only found in Central and South America and will typically only feed on livestock. These bats don’t actually suck the blood, but rather feed by lapping blood from small incisions made with their teeth, oftentimes without the livestock being aware of their presence. Bats are the only mammals that can truly fly, but should not be mistaken for flying mice or rats. Scientists believe that bats are actually more closely related to monkeys than to rodents.
Unfortunately, many bat roosts are destroyed due to the belief that they are pests and spread rabies, when really bats are a hugely beneficial part of the wildlife community. Bat populations consume enormous numbers of insect pests that can be harmful to humans and crops. A single bat can eat thousands of insects each night and given that bats often roost in massive colonies, the role bats have in keeping pest populations in check across the globe is immeasurable. A general misunderstanding and under appreciation of bats is leading to habitat loss and declining numbers for these animals that are far more helpful to humans than harmful.
If you want to learn more about bats and the contributions they make to the ecosystem, sign up for the “Bats: Myth and Reality” program at Brooker Creek Preserve on October 20th from 10–11:30 a.m. Free registration is available here. You can also help with habitat loss by purchasing a bat house during this program! More information can be found on the program registration page.
Stay up to date on news and information affecting our environment by following your Pinellas County Natural Resource Extension Agent on Twitter.
Lara Miller, Natural Resource Agent
Michael Barr, Brooker Creek Preserve Intern