Halloween means zombies, witches, vampires, and goblins lurk in the shadows and around every corner. Toothy, carved pumpkins and images of bats silhouetted against a full moon abound.
I admit the idea of encountering a zombie does not sit well with me; however, bats are a different story. Despite their spooky image, bats are far from terrifying, and I can assure you, they really don’t want anything to do with your hair.
Bats get a bad rap. I recently watched a movie that depicted bats as swarming, voracious creatures with chameleon-like abilities to change colors and hide in plain sight, waiting to attack.
That is terrifying, right? But that is about as far from reality as you can get.
As much as I’d love to see a bat turn from black to purple to green, it just won’t happen. Instead, real bats are likely to use their natural color to just blend in and hide by tucking underneath tree bark or burying themselves in clumps of leaves. And as long as we are clearing the air, bats…
- will not fly into your hair;
- will not suck your blood;
- will not try to eat you alive; and
- will not chew through your siding, your shutters, or your attic vents.
Bats are not birds, they are not giant insects, and they are not flying rodents. They do not build nests. They will not breed like rabbits and rapidly infest your house. They are not blind. They are not flying, disease ridden vermin searching out unsuspecting humans to infect.
Well, if they aren’t going to attack me in my sleep, build nests in my hair, or try to eat my brains, what the heck are they, and what do they do? Bats are mammals — the only mammals capable of flight. They are covered in soft fur and give birth to live young (pups) which are nursed until they are old enough to venture out on their own.
Even though some people think they look like flying mice, they are not closely related to rodents. The bones in their wings are the same bones you have in your own hand. Bats are very diverse, making up about one quarter of all mammals worldwide:
- They range in size from the world’s smallest mammal, the small, bumblebee-sized bumblebee bat to the large flying foxes, with their 6-foot wingspans.
- They are pollinators, fruit eaters, seed dispersers, and insect devourers.
- They can have big ears, small ears or pointy ears;
- Fancy wrinkly faces or a face that looks remarkably like fox’s;
- Small, pointed noses or noses that resemble a leaf; and they can have long tails or short tails.
And yes, some bats feed on blood. But don’t worry; even though vampire bats do exist, these very specialized creatures are smaller than your typical cell phone and aren’t the terrifying creatures you may be imagining. Vampire bats live in Central and South America and typically feed on the blood of livestock, and believe it or not, their feeding ritual goes largely unnoticed by their prey. Their saliva has even been used to develop medicines for stroke patients.
|Check out this blog post from our Director Dan Ashe, ”The Real Horror Would Be If Bats Disappear”|
Closer to home, here in the Northeast, our native bats are small, and most weigh about the same as a few pennies.
The thousands of insects they eat each night save farmers millions of dollars on insect control and crop damage. That makes bats the most organic form of insect control you can get. Our local bats are agile fliers who are adept at navigating through thick forests in search of their insect prey. They readily devour the pests that eat our food crops and trees, and spread disease.
Those bats that seem to be swooping down to grab a chunk of your hair? Yep, those bats might just be going after insects too — the insects that are going after you.
Bats are long-lived species; some individuals have even been documented to have survived for over 30 years. Quite unlike rodents, most bats are only able to produce one to two pups each year (some species may have up to 4 pups).
Unfortunately, right now bats have something to fear themselves – white-nose syndrome (WNS). WNS is a rapidly spreading fungal disease that has resulted in the catastrophic decline of bats throughout eastern North America.
Over 5.7 million bats have already died, and because bats are long-lived and produce so few young, it will take many generations for populations to recover from this disease.
And, speaking of diseases, the claim that all bats are rabid is yet another fear perpetuated by popular media.
While it’s true that bats can carry rabies, less than 1 percent of wild bats are actually infected with the disease. Even so, don’t go picking up any bats you might find on the ground. That bat may be sick or injured, and it won’t be worth the mandatory rabies shots you’ll have to get if you try to handle it. Call your local wildlife biologist for help.
While there is no reason for us to fear these beneficial critters, I admit, it’s unnerving to have a bat flying circles in your living room. But, if that happens to you, gather your wits, remember why bats are good, and help the little guy escape safely by opening a window so the bat can fly out.
Despite what you may have seen on TV, the world is a better place for everyone with bats in it. 🙂
Pingback: They won’t suck your blood, but they will eat the insects that do; fearing FOR bats as Halloween approaches | HomegrownIowan.com
Very informative. I have seen more bats in the past 4-5 months, than I saw last year, so I thought perhaps they were making a comeback in NJ.
We wish we could say that. Most bat populations in the northeast have experienced declines and continue to experience declines from white-nose syndrome, but some have leveled off to some degree. The greater number of bats you’re observing could be associated with fall migration activity and possibly swarming activity.
In New Jersey, fall trapping efforts have been conducted at Mt. Hope Mine for the past three years. Given the data gathered from these years of sampling, it appears that a fair Indiana bat population size still exists at Mt. Hope Mine. However, prior to WNS, one would expect to see many hundreds, if not thousands of little brown bat captures. Unfortunately, the number of little brown bat captures for the past three years has been less than 50 little brown bats. Below is a count of bats captured this last fall:
Indiana – 351
Little Brown – 42
Northern – 4
Small-footed – 20
Big Brown – 5
Red – 5
Work by Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ suggests little brown bats dropped about 80 percent in population following WNS, whereas big brown bats actually increased following this time, perhaps indicating that they’re taking advantage of newly available roosts. Surveys at our Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge showed similar results.
Wow. I have to assume what I saw were little browns, but not sure. Didn’t know there were that many types of bats here!
Really informative article about bats, I often run into several misconception about bats in my line of work. I work in humane bat removal in the Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area and always try to assist in creating awareness of the benefits of bats. I have a lot of useful information about the benefits of bats on my website also http://www.propestmen.com/ohio/index.html if anyone would like more information. Thanks again for the great article.
Thanks! I’m happy to hear that you found the article interesting. Bats are so important and I really appreciate your efforts to help improve public perception of these interesting, beneficial, and misunderstood creatures.
I have to tell you that just this week my sister how has curly hair had a bat fly into it and now has to have rabies shots. So sometimes bats do fly into someone’s hair.
Pingback: Infographic: White Nose Syndrome Has Killed 5.7 Million Bats in North America | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building
Pingback: Saving One of Halloween’s Iconic Species | The Dirt
Pingback: 10 Scary Facts About Bats For Halloween | Care2 Healthy Living
Pingback: Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 67 – The Mexican Long-nosed Bat | Mungai and the Goa Constrictor
Pingback: Saving One of Halloween’s Icons | Muzz Landscape Architects
I am compelled to write about an incidence that happened to me last Saturday night in Southwest Colorado. I am an archaeologist and was working in the field on an 8-day session. I qA walking from my small camper to the coals where I was making a dutch oven pizza for the crew. A bat began flying around me. I am not afraid of bats and thought it was cool to see one flying around me. However, the bat FLEW INTO MY HAIR!! I have two eyewitnesses and one of them had to extract the bat from my hair. The bad had clutched my hair in both sets of digits and in its mouth. Once it was extracted it continued to fly around the campsite. I returned to my camper to get something for the pizza and the bat flew into my camper. I caught it out of the corner of my eye and was not convinced it was the bat. My crew members followed the bat and saw it fly into the camper. When I left the camper, it flew out. It was never seen again even though we were there in the camping site for many more days. It’s my new totem.
Thanks for sharing your unusual experience – there’s always one exception to the rule! It sounds like you calmly handled the situation and we appreciate how you adopted the bat as your totem. Thankfully, the situation ended on a positive note, with the bat continuing on his way. It is important to note, however, as with any wild animals contact with bats can expose people to diseases. We do encourage people to report wildlife that appear to be acting abnormally to their state wildlife agency. Information about sick or injured wildlife helps natural resource agencies manage wildlife and wildlife diseases.
Around 1970 I was 10 years old we lived in the English countryside near Swindon. My father and I had taken an evening walk out over the fields with our dog. We had been out a couple of hours and were about a mile from home. The sun had set and there was very little light to see, but living in a village without street lights and having a dog we were used to walking in the dark. We were aware that bats were about having seen them while there was still enough light. As we walked I suddenly felt a light touch on the back of my head, and reached back but there was nothing there. My immediate thought was that it was probably bat excreta (not that my young mind had access to that latin noun at that age). However as I immediately told the event to my father the difficulty of me finding a suitable noun ended up with me using a more casual word. I can only suppose that I assumed a parallel between bats and night and birds in the daytime which caused me to think it was most likely bat excreta rather than a bat. But once I had more time to consider it, the lack of any residue on my hair led me to conclude that the actual cause was a bat momentarily alighting on my hair. Some while later on the walk my father expressed his surprise on my using a word that he thought I was too innocent to know.
Although I am aware that in tests, bats can detect lines thinner than a human hair. Having thought of this incident when ever I am reminded of bat echo location, I have a theory that whereas a single hair gives a very small return, a mass of hair would give a small and confused echo. Not one which the bat would in likelihood have previously encountered, its contact with my head may have been curiosity, or even an assumption that it was a cloud of insect life.
Pingback: 8 Things People Get Wrong About Animals - Skeptic.live
Pingback: 8 Things People Get Wrong About Animals – ASTROCOHORS IV
Pingback: 8 Things People Get Wrong About Animals - SciShow | ReflectVideo
Pingback: 8 Things People Get Wrong About Animals 2018 | Hay Day Hack Tool
Pingback: 8 Things People Get Wrong About Animals |