Bats are wonderfully beneficial creatures that provide invaluable services to both natural ecosystems and human economies around the world. Yet they are also among the most misunderstood of animals – routinely feared and loathed as sinister denizens of the night. Except in China, where bats have long been celebrated as symbols of good luck and happiness. Their images embellished the palaces, thrones and robes of emperors.
But things are different just about everywhere else, although they are improving through the efforts of groups like Bat Conservation International. When Merlin Tuttle founded BCI in 1982, he recalls some serious skepticism: “Even conservationists looked at me like: ‘Sure, next you’ll try to sell us on the virtues of rattlesnakes and cockroaches.’”
The Truth about Bats
Here’s a few of the common myths about bats – and the real story:
Blind as a bat
Forget it. Bats not only see as well as just about any other mammal, but most bats also use a unique biological sonar system called echolocation, which lets them navigate and hunt fast-flying insects in total darkness. Basically, the bat emits beep-like sounds into its path, then collects and analyzes the echoes that come bouncing back. Using sound alone, bats can see everything but color and detect obstacles as fine as a human hair.
Bats are flying mice
Nope. Bats are mammals, but they are not rodents. In fact, they are more closely related to humans than to rats and mice.
Bats get tangled in your hair
Get real. This was a common myth a few decades ago, but bats are much too smart and agile for that.
Bats are blood suckers
Well, there really are three vampire bat species (out of more than 1,300 bat species) that feed on blood; only one targets mammals. All vampire bats are limited to Latin America. Oh, and they don’t suck blood, they lap it like kittens with milk. And a powerful anticoagulant found in vampire saliva, which the bats use to keep blood from clotting, has been developed into a medication that helps prevent strokes in humans.
All bats are rabid
Not even close. Bats, like other mammals, can be infected with the rabies virus and some of them are. But the vast majority of bats are not infected. However, a bat that can be easily approached by humans is likely to be sick and may bite if handled. Simply do not touch or handle a bat or any other wild animal and there is little chance of being bitten. Teach children to never handle any wild animal.