The wonderful world of bats and why we should protect them, even if you don't dig them.
Bats protect us from mosquito-borne illnesses, save farmers BILLIONS of dollars in pesticides AND give us tequila. What's not to like???
October is the month we celebrate one of our most amazing yet misunderstood animals of the sky, bats. Bats should be celebrated every month of the year for the amazing benefits they selflessly afford us humans - no, seriously. Plus they're just nonthreatening and awesome to have around. Look at these guys, half of them look like your dog and the other half look like Yoda. What's scary here?
All Photos by: Merlin Tuttle of Merlin Tuttle Bat Conservation
Obviously October is bat appreciation month because it's the month people tend think of bats as well as dress up like Dracula (if they have little to no imagination) and give bats an underserved bad name. Hopefully with a little education we can change that.
Maybe asking the obvious questions about why people fear or loathe bats is a good place to start. Let's look at the science and history and stop believing fear mongers who have no basis for believing or spreading misinformation about bats.
1) Do you fear bats because of rabies?
This is an easy one to address because it's a truly unfounded and unsubstantiated fear. Do you remember when your aunt got rabies? No? How about the lady down the street in your neighborhood? No? Your childhood best friend? Do you know anyone who has had rabies, better yet, do you know anyone who knows anyone who has had rabies? No, you don't, because it's so rare in North America that very few people can claim to know a single victim of rabies. Many of us know at least someone connected to 9/11, but almost no one knows a single person who has had or knows anyone who has had rabies. To drive this point home here is an excerpt from the CDC:
"Human rabies cases in the United States are rare, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually. Twenty-three cases of human rabies have been reported in the United States in the past decade (2008-2017). Eight of these were contracted outside of the U.S. and its territories.
The number of human rabies deaths in the United States attributed to rabies has been steadily declining since the 1970’s thanks to animal control and vaccination programs, successful outreach programs, and the availability of modern rabies biologics. Dog rabies vaccination programs have halted the natural spread of rabies among domestic dogs, which are no longer considered a rabies reservoir in the United States. Nonetheless, each year around 60 to 70 dogs and more than 250 cats are reported rabid. Nearly all these animals were unvaccinated and became infected from rabid wildlife (such as bats, raccoons, and skunks)."
Merlin Tuttle, an ecologist and lifelong bat expert says the only thing you need to know when you are in the vicinity of a bat, particularly a down one, is don't touch it. That doesn't sound very difficult for most people. There's no risk if you've steered clear. Bats do fly occasionally during the day, but that doesn't mean they are rabid. If they are grounded during the day, use extra caution and contact animal control.
2) Do bats freak you out because they fly over your head at night?
Relax and sit back because they are just working the night shift so you can sleep better and stay healthy. They're keeping those nasty mosquito populations down so you don't get sick with Zika, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), dengue, chikungunya or yellow fever. They work at night because that's when the insects are out, so yes, they're flying overhead, but they aren't interested in you in the least, just eating the things that make you sick. As if this isn't enough, they are also keeping your food somewhat free of pesticides since farmers rely on bats to eat crop pests. This saves farmers between 3 and 57 billion dollars per year on pesticides because bats do the work for them for free. Thank you, bats.
3) Have you had a bat in your attic and now you can't sleep at night?
Bats don't want to move into your house to freak you out, they're just looking for a place to snooze. If you've had one in your attic or other crawl space, it's likely a young bat trying to figure things out. First, open a window (if you have one) and wait for them to find it and fly out. Once they've gone to forage in the evening, plug the hole (they can get into most holes greater than 1/2"), if that doesn't work, or you don't have a window to open, it is recommended you use a shoebox, a sturdy piece of cardboard and thick leather gloves. Think of how you would remove a spider from your house, similar technique. Bats aren't destructive, they won't rip the siding off your house or chew through wood to get into your attic, they'll move right along if there's no longer an entrance. Problem solved. Just make sure you remove them humanely and safely, because remember, bats are good.
4) Do you think the only good bat is a deceased one?
Well that's seriously too bad, especially if you eat bananas and mangos and drink tequila (probably not at the same time). Bats are not only exterminators of the sky but many are also responsible for exclusively or partially pollinating vital food crops as well as spreading seeds to new areas. The relationship between bats and agave plants is so strong that bat numbers fluctuate with the success of the agave plant. So when bats aren't around to pollinate those agave plants, and tequila is no longer around for those margaritas, we'll all wish we had shown a bit more respect for our friendly neighborhood bats.
Ways You Can Help Bats:
1) Keep dead or dying trees on your property if they don't pose any danger. These are roosting places for bats.
2) Put up bat houses on your property.
3) Stop using pesticides to kill insects, let bats do it for you. You will also be helping bees and butterflies!
4) Keep streams and water sources clean for bats and other wildlife to drink safely
5) Get involved! Find out if there are bat monitoring activities in your state. Some offer summer roost counting while others offer acoustic bat monitoring.
6) Never disturb bats, especially during hibernation. Steer clear of caves and roosts where bats hibernate so you don't stress them out causing them to use up their fat reserves before the winter is over.
7) Safely and humanely remove them from your home should they find a way in. Do as mentioned above and plug that hole so they don't keep revisiting.
So, are you still afraid of one of nature's most useful, harmless, not to mention adorable, animals? Hopefully you'll support bat conservation and pass on good information to others and stopping the cycle of bad bat rumors from continuing to spread.