Gone “Batty” for Bats

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“Hey! I was napping here.” A silver-tailed bat fails to impress us with a showy display of hissing and teeth baring. Photo by L.J. Bailey

Don’t be deceived by this silver-haired bat’s ferocious appearance! You would be upset, too, if strangers burst into your room while you were sleeping and pulled you out of your bed only to put you in a paper bag. That’s kind of what happened to this little guy who was found hanging off a building in Chicago’s Loop this morning – snoozing! Although he did not appear hurt, we relocated him to a preserve south of the city anyway. Bats’ echolocation (the ultrasonic method they have of “seeing” their surroundings) becomes confused with unnaturally smooth surfaces like building glass. Thus, downtown Chicago is a not a friendly place for bats. Plus, these bats are so tiny that they are eaten by crows and seagulls, much the way songbirds are picked off by them, too.

Wasn’t I concerned about rabies? I’m so glad you asked. While you should never ever handle any wild animal, especially a bat, some people (like me) have been trained how to safely do so. However, very few bats actually have transmittable rabies viruses. The United States Center for Disease Control reports that only 6% of the bats submitted to them for testing have rabies. Bats submitted to them were sick or injured enough to be easily caught and contained, so this is not an accurate sampling of the actual percentage of rabies-carrying bats in the wild. Therefore, it is likely that a bat you encounter in the wild poses no rabies threat (or any other threat) whatsoever.  However, it is possible that bats active during the day, found in your home or on your lawn, or generally on the ground unable to fly could have active rabies virus. This is why you call the experts to help you out.

If not all bats are rabid, what other myths are there about bats? I’m glad you asked that as well:

  • Bats are not blind. They can see well even in low light but use a combination of eyesight and echolocation to zero in on some of their smaller insect prey.
  • Bats do not want to hang out in your hair. Sorry if you thought your new ‘do would be a great draw. Because bats rest upside down, they become airborne by dropping off of their perch before using their wings to swoop up. This creates the impression that they are aiming for your head. They’re not. They want nothing to do with you.
  • Bats are not bloodsuckers – mostly. Out of the over 1,200 species of bats in the world, only 3 feed on blood. Interestingly, not one of those species is in Europe, although you might think so given the stories and folklore surrounding bats and vampires.
  • Bats are not rodents with wings. Stop thinking that. Genetically speaking, they have more in common with primates than they do rodents. They’re also not birds – they’re mammals.

Bats also have many amazing qualities and help us out in ways we might not be aware of:

  • One bat can eat as many as 1,200 insects in an hour of feeding. You know how the mosquitos are out of control in the Chicagoland area? We need more bats.
  • Bats are critical pollinators for the plant kingdom.
  • Furthermore, fruit-eating bats perform the vital function of seed dispersal.
  • Bat poop (or guano), when collected responsibly, can have a very positive effect on local economies. It serves many functions, including acting as fertilizer.
  • Bats are tourist attractions. Bats don’t want to see us, but many of us want to see bats. In Austin, Texas alone, one bridge known for harboring tens of thousands of bats, generates $10,000,000 in tourism revenue each year. There are places like Carlsbad Caverns and others too numerous to name that generate a lot of revenue for the local community.

What if we saw bats as the allies that they are and not scary flying mice who want to nest in our hair? Check out Bat Conservation International for more information about this fascinating animal.

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