Extension Educator, Horticulture
Halloween - when bats become popular. Well, at least the fake kind. Their silhouettes appear on windows and costumes everywhere yet the real thing freaks us out. Bats are not as creepy as many think plus they are very beneficial.
Next time someone says you have bats in your belfry just say "Thank you, I hope so". You may not have a bell tower but promoting bats in your landscape is a healthy way to control night flying insects. In one night a single brown bat can eat 3,000 to 7,000 insects including mosquitoes, corn borer and cutworm moths. According to Bat Conservation International a colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from up to 33 million or more rootworms each summer.
Ok, so why are bats so feared? Maybe it's from watching way too many vampire movies. Despite what the movies tell us vampire bats are only found in Central and South America. They actually do not suck blood but lap it up like a dog drinking water. At night they feed by first pricking the leg or ankle of a sleeping mammal or bird. They have a special anti-coagulant in their saliva that keeps the blood from clotting. They drink about 2 tablespoons of blood then are off to find a another meal. The "meal" may not even awaken when the vampire bat comes to dinner. According to Bat Conservation International the anti-coagulant in bat saliva has now been synthesized to be used as a medication for heart patients.
If you look at a bat face, they resemble a little Chihuahua dog. I don't know of anyone who has a natural fear of Chihuahuas so bats must freak us out because they hang upside down. Bats have specialized legs so they can hang without using any energy. Hanging upside down allows bats to use areas for roosting and raising young that no one else can use. Plus it's a handy way to avoid predators.
People are afraid that bats will fly into their hair. Bats have good eyesight but some bats also have a sophisticated sonar system called echolocation. They send out high frequency sounds then listen for the echo as the sound bounces off objects in front of them. Echolocation helps them to avoid objects and to find food in complete darkness. Bats may fly near people's heads to feast on the insects attracted to humans. My theory of this myth origin is someone, somewhere at sometime had a big beehive hairdo and a bat got distracted and got a bit too close. Realize I have absolutely no info except pictures of '50s hairdos to back this theory.
People also mistakenly believe bats are filthy and carry diseases. Bats are mammals and spend a great deal of time cleaning their fur. They have no more incidence of rabies then other mammals. The main health concern is from a fungus found in bat droppings (also in bird droppings) which in some people can cause flu-like sickness. Bats can be a nuisance by making their home in attics.
Bat nest boxes can be built to encourage bats into your yard. Bat Conservation International has some great info about excluding bats and how to make bat houses. Check it out http://www.batcon.org Bat Conservation International; P.O. Box 162603; Austin, TX 78716 Phone: (512) 327-9721.
Got critter problems? Join Dave Shiley of U of I Extension for a program on wildlife management at the Vermilion County Extension office, 25 E. Liberty Lane, Danville, IL, on Tuesday, November 2, 2004, at 6:30 pm. There will be a $5.00 donation at the door. Refreshments provided. For more information call, 442-8615.