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Misconceptions about Bats

From KY Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Frankfort, KY - October 30, 2003 - The leaves are almost gone from the trees and spooky decorations adorn homes all over Kentucky. It is nearly Halloween. One of the most potent symbols of creepiness, a bat, is found on many of the Halloween decorations and costumes. The image of the bat conjures evil, filth and disease.

People fear bats because they donít know the truth about them, said Traci Wethington, endangered species biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). If they knew more about them, people would like them. When we learn more about them, we can be like the Chinese and consider them good luck charms.

Dracula movies and the novels of Bram Stoker and Anne Rice about vampires along with folklore give bats a bad image to most people. But, bats do important work in controlling insect populations.

There are 14 species of bats in Kentucky and they are all insect eaters, Wethington explained. Bats do at night what birds do during the day. If we didnít have them, we would certainly notice. Bats eat noxious insects such as the cut worm, corn borer moth, mosquitoes and the cucumber beetle. A single bat can consume 600-1000 mosquitoes and other insects each hour in our back yard.

Cucumber beetles eat spinach and corn, but their larvae, corn rootworms can hurt corn productivity by 10 to 13 percent. It costs from $15 to $25 per acre of corn to control corn rootworms. A colony of 150 big brown bats can eat 38,000 cucumber beetles in a summer season. Their appetite prevents the cucumber beetles they eat from producing 18 million corn rootworms.

Bats also disperse seeds and pollen. Some plants that are now cultivated such as almonds, cashews, bananas, plantain, figs, papaya owe their wild existence to the seed dispersion and pollination of bats. Yet, bats are subject to outlandish beliefs. People think bats lay eggs in peopleís hair, attack people and infect people with rabies.

A lot of people think bats are birds, but they are the only true flying mammals, Wethington explained. They have fur and suckle their young. They donít lay eggs.

Wethington thinks the mistaken belief of bats attacking them or trying to get in their hair stems from the batís pursuit of prey. Most humans are near outdoor lights of some kind at night. Lights attract insects and insects attract bats.

These misconceptions stem from flight and feeding behaviors, Wethington said. Bats have a swooping motion when they feed and they can dive at insects close to you under lights at night. That is where the attack fear comes from with bats. They donít care about us. They care about eating insects and are not attracted to your hair.

When a bat is in an enclosed space such as a room in your house, it will circle repeatedly. If you were in the room with a bat, the circular flight seems menacing, but the bat is simply trying to escape the room.

Another myth associated with bats is they bite humans and transmit rabies. Bats are mammals and all mammals have the potential for rabies, Wethington explained. Less than one-half of one percent of bats have rabies. You stand a better chance of being hit by lightning or winning the state lottery than you do of being bitten by a bat with rabies.

An official who misses an important call in a basketball game is accused of being blind as a bat. Bats are not blind, Wethington said. They can see. Just like our eyes, the eyes of bats are not adapted for seeing at night. We use a flashlight, bats use other means.

Bats emit high frequency sounds at night that bounce off objects to determine their shape, size and directional movement. The bats are more sophisticated than our man-made radar, Wethington said. Our radar is not up to the batís level. Bats can detect something as fine as a human hair in total darkness.

Bats are important members of our ecosystem, yet they are consistently misunderstood and persecuted. Bats get a lot of bad press, Wethington said. Often, people whoíve never seen a bat automatically react poorly when they are mentioned. The constant negative deluge hurts them. In China, bats are held in high esteem and are considered omens of good luck and happiness. The word for bat means happiness and good luck in Chinese.

For more information about Kentucky bats, go to www.biology.eku.edu/bats.htm.


 

 

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