As Halloween approaches, bat experts brace themselves for the annual barrage of misinformation about these beneficial creatures of the night. The California Department of Fish and Game has put together some excellent information on the subject:
Bat myths include: bats will suck your blood, they’ll fly into your hair, they’re flying rats, most of them have rabies. None of these myths are true.
Only three of the roughly 1,100 species of bats worldwide feed on blood. Vampire bats, normally found in Mexico, Central and South America, usually take their blood meals by lapping up an ounce or two at a time from nicks their sharp incisors have made in the skin of livestock. Unlike their movie images, vampires are even nice “people.” They have been known to adopt orphaned bats and to share their food with other bats in the roost.
Bats don’t fly into people’s hair. Like most wildlife, they tend to avoid people. They are not rodents, nor are they birds. They’re mammals of the scientific classification Chiroptera (pronounced kir-OP-ter-a), which is Greek for “hand-wing.” Bats are the second-largest group of mammals worldwide, behind rodents.
Less than one percent of the wild bat population has rabies. To avoid the small rabies risk, don’t pick up grounded bats. These animals are obviously not well.
Bats exist throughout California. Depending on the species and time of year, they can be found hanging out in groups or individually in caves, mines, crevices, under bridges and in tree hollows. Some species are even common in established residential neighborhoods. Older buildings are especially attractive to bats because they tend to have cracks and crevices they like for roosting. Occasionally bats will enter an attic to raise their young. The result can be night noises, unpleasant odors and frightened homeowners.
Although bats are a protected species, and poisoning them is illegal, there is no law against eradicating bats that are damaging your home. However, the “win-win” solution for humans and bats is to humanely exclude them from access to their building roost. If you merely remove the bats without eliminating their access, more are likely to return the following year.
If you did kill a family of bats, the insect population might increase around your home, because bats are voracious insect-eaters. But if you simply exclude bats from the inside of your house by blocking access to your attic, there’s a chance the bats will find another roost nearby and stay around to keep the insect population under control. Some property owners install “bat boxes” on adjacent trees or buildings to attract their own colony of live bug-zappers.
Indeed, some species of bats that are common in California can eat as many as 600 insects an hour, including mosquitoes, beetles and crickets. Bats play an essential role in natural pest control by helping to protect the state’s agriculture industry from crop-eating insects.
The big brown bat and Mexican free-tail bats are among the most common bat species in California. Bats can live up to 20 years, usually producing only one offspring per year.
Of the 24 species of bats in California, 14 are considered Species of Special Concern, meaning that special efforts should be made to conserve them to avoid further population declines. In recognition of the important role bats play in our ecosystem and the declining status of many of our species, the Department of Fish and Game is working with California bat experts to produce a conservation strategy for all our bat species.
Bat Conservation International (BCI) is an organization dedicated to educating the public about bats. BCI’s Web page, http://www.batcon.org contains fascinating facts about bats, bat houses, bat natural history, tips on bat-proofing your home, and it has excellent links to other bat web sites.
There’s also lots of information on the Internet:
Enjoy, and try not to go batty yourself trying to read all this stuff. Happy Halloween! /Gary