Bats battle a bad rap

MOUNT SOLON—What do most people think when they see a bat? It’s usually not good, thanks largely to myth, literature and film that has long portrayed the critter as a blood-sucking menace to be feared or shunned. Rabies, too, often comes to mind as well, due to the misconception that all bats are disease-carrying predators of the night just waiting to sink their teeth into unsuspecting victims.
Bats get a bad rap, says Leslie Sturges, president of The Save Lucy Campaign, a bat advocacy organization, who adds that people should, in fact, save, admire and thank bats for their hard work.

The Shenandoah Valley has quite a few species of bats, including some of the most common, such as little brown and big brown bats. But because of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that appeared somewhat out of the blue a decade ago, their population has plummeted.

“We are fortunate to have many species of bats in our area,” Amanda Nicholson director of outreach at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, said. “If you pay attention, you can often see bats at dusk, zipping around eating insects. Unfortunately, bat species are very quickly declining due to white-nose syndrome, so what is common to see now might not be common in a few years.”

To keep bat numbers up, Sturges explained how people should coexist with bats.

“Number one: leave them alone,” she said. “If you see a bat outside and it doesn’t appear that anything is wrong with it, leave it alone. It doesn’t need to be moved or interfered with in any way. People just shouldn’t handle bats.”

Normal bat behavior is to be curious. They drink out of swimming holes so people may encounter them in the evenings. However, Sturges said, they will not attack people.

“They will come very close to you because they’re curious and they’re very agile fliers,” Sturges said. “They can echolocate on something as fine as a human hair; they’re not going to just run into your head unless you’re screaming and flailing your arms around. Then you may have an accidental encounter.”

People should not worry about being attacked by bats, she said, even though in close quarters it may seem like the animals are sizing up prey as they swoop in close.

“If you encounter one indoors it will swoop by you because it wants to go by you,” she added. “Never think they’re attacking you. They’re very tiny animals. They don’t eat people. They don’t want anything to do with us.”

In fact, they eat insects and a lot of them. A single little brown bat, for instance, can catch up to 600 pests in just one hour. That’s one reason they are so beneficial to humans — especially farmers.

“The service that bats are providing is pest management for crops. That is the biggest thing they do for us,” Sturges said.

Rabies in bats is often badly misunderstood, she added. To get rabies, a person would have to be bitten. When bats get rabies they normally die relatively quickly, as opposed to carrying it around for long periods.

“The way to not get rabies is to not handle bats,” Sturges said. “Don’t handle bats barehanded, or if you encounter a bat, don’t swat it or crush it. People do horrible things to bats out of fear, and they’re putting themselves at risk.”

That said, people should never ignore a bite — but that’s true of any wild animal. If someone is bitten by a bat, they need to seek medical help or prophylactic vaccinations immediately.

If an orphaned or injured bat is found, people may contact a wildlife rehabilitator for help. Facilities such as the Wildlife Center of Virginia, Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary and The Save Lucy Campaign will help assess the situation and advise people on what to do.

The biggest threat to bats is white-nosed syndrome and their loss of habitat. Bats often make themselves at home in attics and other structures owned by humans. Sturges urged people to not exclude or kick them out in the summer when their young depend on them.

“They only have one or two babies a year. They’re very slow reproducing animals. Be tolerant in the summer of building colonies when you see them because that’s when they’re having their babies,” Sturges said. “Wait and relocate them when the time is right.”

The best way people can help bats is by simply changing their attitudes about the animals.

“Appreciate them. Enjoy them and talk about them in a positive way,” Sturges said. “There’s so much that’s negative out there about bats that really isn’t warranted. They’re not mean animals. They’re just out there doing this huge service for us.”

Nicholson tells people to not believe the Hollywood hype and the bad reputations bats receive.

“Bats aren't scary, nor are they out to suck your blood or fly in your hair,” she said. “They’re looking for a safe place to raise the kids, a suitable mate and enough to eat. That’s what we’re all looking for. If we recognize that, respect that and stop thinking they’re out to get us, I think we can all live in harmony.”


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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: Bats battle a bad rap
Bats battle a bad rap
Bats battle a bad rap
BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats
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