The Order Chiroptera houses the bats, of which there are forty-five species in North America. With the exception of three species that migrate from Mexico, the bats of the United States are all insectivores. They predate on heavy-bodied beetles and moths, which they catch on the wing using echolocation. Some bats hibernate over winter while others- namely the tree-dwelling bats- actually migrate south for the winter.
Bats save farmers billions of dollars every year by consuming crop pests. Many species are on the decline thanks to white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease named for the white fungus that grows on the muzzles and wings of affected bats. Bats with WNS behave oddly in the winter, including flying out in the day. 90-100% of WNS-affected bats in a hibernacula perish. Scientists are still working to stop the spread and identify the exact way WNS kills bats; one of the leading theories is that the bats burn through all of their body’s fat stores after WNS wakes them up during colder months. It is believed that WNS was accidentally brought to the Americas from the Old World (Europe/Africa/Asia) by cave spelunkers.
Myth: Bats are blind/have poor eyesight.
Truth: Bats actually have eyesight as good as a human’s. “Well, then why do they use echolocation,” you ask? Because, just like us, they don’t see very well in poorly-lit places (unless they’re fruit bats!). Echolocation allows these animals to zip around through and above the trees with great proficiency, and it helps them pinpoint the location of the moths and beetles they love so much. We’d probably go out a lot more at night if we had echolocation, too. Bats have difficulty finding open windows inside houses simply because they’re confused when they’re not outside. If there’s a bat in the room, close the door, open a window, turn off the lights, and leave for a few hours- unless it’s winter, in which case call us!
Myth: Bats are just flying rodents.
Truth: Bats are far removed from rodents. They only have 1-2 young a year (which take all summer to grow independent) and are long-lived. Some bats have been caught in the wild with ID bands dated back thirty years. Rodents, on the other hand, have large litters that grow quickly, often have multiple litters in a year, and don’t live very long on average.
Myth: Bats are responsible for the lack of mosquitoes around my house.
Truth: Although there is evidence that bats do eat mosquitoes, they’re not spending all night doing so. Mosquitoes give very little nutrient reward, so a bat would waste energy catching a meal that gives them virtually no reward. Bats prefer heavy, plump beetles and moths- but that doesn’t mean they’ll ignore a convenient mosquito cloud near their drinking pond. Bats are more responsible for the lack of bugs eating your garden to shreds, and they save farmers billions of dollars in pest control every year.
Myth: Bats are a high-risk rabies vector.
Truth: Doctors will tell you yes. The truth is, less than half of one percent of wild bats contract rabies. Bats have such limited contact with other mammals that the disease doesn’t spread very easily though the species, and most individuals that do get it become lethargic instead of aggressive. Bats can still transmit rabies, however. The danger with bats is not that they commonly get rabies, but that a bat bite is much easier to dismiss as nothing, assuming you even realize you were bitten- so if you do get bitten by one of the rare rabies-infected bats and you ignore it, you’re a goner. A bite from a rabid raccoon is a lot harder to ignore, because the raccoon probably took off some of your fingers in the process.