Okay, so Halloween creepy-crawlie poster child number two is up for examination today; here's a closer look at the wonderful world of bats!
First there are a few myths we need to dispose of – please bury these silly notions under those fake headstones currently decorating the front yard:
Bat Myth 1: All bats are vampires.
No! There are over 1,100 species of bats and only three species are known to suck blood! Those three species, all of which are quite small and are mostly limited to South America, where they suck a meal the size of a teaspoon from forest animals. Most other bats eat insects, fruit, nectar, and/or pollen.
Bat Myth 2: All bats carry rabies.
A big no here, too! Bats can catch rabies, as can any other mammal. According to batworld.org, “Less than one half of one percent of bats actually contract [rabies] . . . more people die annually from contact with household pets than have died from contact with bats in all [of] recorded history.
It’s still not a good idea to grab at or handle a wild bat, however. Remember that compared to a bat who weighs a few ounces, you’re larger than and scarier than Godzilla, even without your Godzilla costume. And if Godzilla tried to grab at or handle you, you’d get scared and bite him, too!
Bat Myth 3: Bats will fly so close to you that they’ll get tangled in your hair.
Not even if your hair is as big as the Bride of Frankenstein’s. Bats are not blind. In addition to seeing as well as humans do, they also have a sonar system that allows them to sense and catch tiny insects in total darkness. They have absolutely no trouble sensing and avoiding something the size of a human! If a bat swoops close to you, it’s probably just eaten a mosquito that was about to bite you. The appropriate thing to do is not to duck and shriek, but to say “Thank you, bat!
Now to some mind-blowing bat facts:
• One little brown bat can catch and eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized bugs per hour. In fact, the Mexican free-tail bats that live in Bracken Cave in Texas can eat up to 400,000 pounds of insects in one night!
• Bats fly fast! The big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) common in all North American habitats can fly at 40 mph!
• There are 47 species of bats in the U.S., eleven of which make their homes right here in Louisiana.
• The world’s smallest bat, Thailand’s bumblebee bat, weighs less than a penny.
• The giant flying fox bats of Asia, however, can have a wingspan of more than six feet!
• The North American little brown bat can live up to 30 years.
• Bat guano is an extremely effective phosphorous-based natural fertilizer and can be used to improve garden soil, kill fungus that harms plants, control nematode plant pests, and activate compost piles for better decomposition.
• Bats pollinate many important night-blooming plants. One example is agave (the plant from which we make tequila) – without bats, agave seed production drops to 0.03%. So, if you’re drinking a margarita, (or eating a banana, mango, cashew, or fig) once again, say “Thank you, bat!”
The scariest thing about bats is, in fact, that 50% of the bats in North America are in population decline.
To keep bats healthy and happy and eating the insects that would otherwise be eliminated with harmful pesticides, try building a bat house!
Instructions for building bat houses are available from many sources, and it will be a great project to keep the kiddos out of their candy stashes during the three-week, candy-induced blood sugar hangover of Halloween.
Now that’s scary.