In the 120 years since “Dracula” came on the scene and spooked us into believing bats are bad, we are beginning to get a grasp on the truth: Their voracious appetite for insects turns them into a living pesticide that saves farmers billions of dollars a year and helps rid our backyards of insects, including mosquitoes, moths, grasshoppers, flies and beetles.
Some bat species are also critically important pollinators for crops ranging from bananas to agave.
Still, there is plenty of false fodder contributing to their scary reputation. Bats aren’t flying mice. In fact, they are more closely related to humans, according to Bat Conservation International.
Bats don’t get tangled in your hair. Bats aren’t blind.
Of the three species—out of more than 1,400—that feed on blood, only one targets mammals. All of these are limited to Latin America.
Most importantly, bats are no more likely to get rabies than other mammals. However, in any given year, some bats likely do contract and develop the disease, says Dana Sanchez, wildlife specialist with Oregon State University Extension Service.
“People should report and avoid any contact with a bat that acts oddly, such as flying during the day, approaching people or crawling on the ground,” Dana says. “It could be affected by rabies or another disease, such as white-nose syndrome.”
Report sightings to your local fish and wildlife or health department, where there are professionals to advise you on the steps to take.
Bats need little encouragement to hang around. They roost in dead trees, caves and other dark, quiet places, including bat houses. You will see them at dusk and can recognize them by their zigzagging flight patterns.
To attract them to your garden and to help with their conservation, construct a bat house or provide other roosting places, says Dan Crannell, an Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener.
“One of the biggest problems that bats are facing right now is loss of habitat,” Dan says. “We can try to mitigate that with bat houses.”
Dana says other factors threatening bats are broad changes to water and foraging resources due to climate change.
Bat boxes resemble large birdhouses but are open on the bottom and partitioned into several narrow spaces. Bat Conservation International has resources on its website, www.batcon.org, for building bat boxes, or you can buy one.
More Bat Facts
- Bats are the only mammal capable of true flight.
- Bats can be found everywhere in the world, except some islands and the polar regions.
- Some bats hibernate and others migrate in the winter.
- Bats vary in size. The bumble-bee bat in Asia has a wingspan of only 7 inches, while the giant golden-crowned flying fox in the tropics of Asia, Africa and Europe can have one of up to 6 feet.
- Some bats are solitary and some live in colonies of up to 20 million.
- In addition to insects, some bats feed on fish, frogs, lizards and fruit.
- Many bats are listed as threatened or endangered.