October 26, 2006
To The Bat CaveÖ Fact And Fantasy About Bats
Halloween has long been the favored haunt for bats in our imagination. In movies, ghost tales, and neighborhood trick-or-treat parties, bats often play a featured role, appearing from the dark shadows on silent wings. In reality, most of these misunderstood mammals are snuggled in their bat caves (hibernaculas, to bat fans) by the time Halloween arrives, preparing for a long winter slumber.
"Bats are one of the most misunderstood and under appreciated wildlife species," said Jenny Dickson, a Wildlife Diversity Program biologist for the Department of Environmental Protectionís (DEP) Wildlife Division. "With all the images of bats we see at Halloween, this is a good time to put fear aside and learn what is fact and what is fantasy when it comes to these beneficial animals."
"As voracious insect-eaters, bats provide a great natural insect control service from farms to backyards," continued Dickson. "Little brown bats can consume 1,200 mosquito-sized insects in an hour. Over an entire night, thatís a lot of free mosquito control." Bats in tropical regions pollinate flowers and disperse seeds for many commercially available plants like almonds, avocados, bananas, figs, and allspice. Bats also have contributed to advances in navigation, vaccine and antibiotic production, birth control and fertility studies, and the development of alternative fuels like gasohol.
The folkloric fascination for bats and their many alter egos has caused them to endure a bad reputation for centuries. Here are some age-old myths that can be dispelled with a few interesting facts:
∑ Bats are not flying mice. They are the only mammal capable of true flight and are more closely related to primates (and people) than to rodents.
∑ Bats do not get caught in peopleís hair. They are adept fliers and rely on sensitive sonar (echolocation) to navigate night skies. Bats that swoop near people are after insects like mosquitoes.
∑ Bats are not blind. They have good eyesight, but rely on echolocation to master night flight.
∑ Bats are not filthy or covered with parasites. Clean wings are essential for executing intricate flight patterns, so bats spend great amounts of time grooming themselves. Parasites that feed on bats are highly specialized and do not transmit infections to humans.
∑ Three species of bats are known as vampire bats. They are found only in Latin America and are a parasite of birds and cattle.
∑ Worldwide there are almost 1,000 different kinds of bats. Connecticut has only eight native species; four of these are classified as Special Concern Species and one, the Indiana Bat, is classified as a State and Federally Endangered Species.
By learning more about these unique creatures, people can help make this Halloween season one based on bat facts rather than Hollywood fiction. Bat conservation is the only way to prevent the loss of these valuable animals. Conservation begins with understanding and the Wildlife Division can help. Information sheets on bats and building bat houses, as well as dealing with nuisance bat encounters, are available free-of-charge by writing to the DEP Wildlife Diversity Program, P.O. Box 1550, Burlington, CT 06013. The bat information sheet and plans for building bat houses also can be found in the wildlife section of the DEPís website www.ct.gov/dep.