My colleagues and friends are all pretty familiar with my fondness for bats. With their fuzzy backs and twitchy little ears – not to mention their penchant for eating the mosquitos that eat me alive every summer- what’s not to love? I’ve even written about them several times already for the Wildlife Blog, such as my post on celebrating bats for Halloween and my post about the Year of the Bat.
I’m so happy, then, that this week (October 26 – November 1, 2014) is National Bat Week, led by organizations such as the Organization for Bat Conservation, Bat Conservation International, and the U.S. Forest Service. This celebration is designed to focus public attention on the value of bats and the conservation challenges they face. This celebration includes a coordinated public education campaign and events, such as this great bat house building workshop that the cast and crew of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice participated to help bats and draw attention to the important role bats play in pop culture.
In the spirit of National Bat Week, there are five common misconceptions about bats that I thought I’d dispel.
“Blind as a bat”
Bats can see just as well as other mammals. At night, they rely mostly upon echolocation to navigate and “see” their insect prey. Echolocation is similar to sonar, in that the bats emit an ultra-high-pitched sound and analyze the echoes that bounce back.
“Bats are flying rodents”
Bats are mammals, but that’s where the similarity to mice and rats ends. They are not rodents at all. Bats make up Order Chiroptera (a word that means “hand wing” in Greek) – this is an entirely separate order of mammals from rodents, which make up Order Rodentia.
“They’ll get caught in my hair!”
Bats are astonishingly agile while flying, and echolocation allows bats to “see” obstacles as fine as human hair. So while they often fly low, they will easily avoid your head and hairdo.
“Bats will suck your blood”
Most bats feed on things like insects or fruit. Only three bat species are “vampire bats,” or those that feed on blood. These species are all found in Latin America. Of the three, only one (the common vampire bat) targets mammals, and it prefers to feed on livestock like cows and goats. (The Organization for Bat Conservation has a live “VampCam” where you can watch common vampire bats in action, as well as read more neat info about vampire bats.)
“Bats have rabies”
While it’s possible for bats to be infected with rabies, only 0.5% of bats carry the rabies virus. Still, it’s important to be cautious and never approach a downed bat.