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
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