Going Batty

In a post-Twilight culture, how do you talk about bats when the popular opinion is they're scary blood-sucking creatures (with rabies!) who get caught in your hair?

story & photo by Tony Kerwin

Well, we can start by dispelling the myths. But first, let's look at some truths. As with many wild mammals, bats can carry rabies, but only in about the same proportion as any other animal in the wild - approximately one-tenth of one percent. Pretty low.

So if you see a bat flying during the day? It's probably sick and may have rabies. If this occurs, you should avoid this bat and keep other people and your pets away from it.

Now, about those blood-sucking bats… There are in fact three species of vampire bats. All are found south of the U.S. border though they can occasionally show up in Texas. These bats don't suck blood per se, but they do drink it. Their saliva contains a powerful trio of chemicals - a natural anesthetic, a vasodilator to relax and open blood vessels, and an anticoagulant to prevent clotting. These naturally-occurring substances allow the bat to comfortably lap up freely-flowing blood for their nightly meal. And for us humans, they're currently being studied by scientists in hopes to treat stroke and heart attack victims.

Going Batty
photo by Lisa Clark

But getting tangled in your hair? Not a chance. Bats are amazing animals that use their echolocation to detect substances as fine as the human hair.

Wait, how about that saying, "blind as a bat?" Another myth. Bats are not blind. They can see - and hear - very well. Bats' excellent echolocation calls are almost always in a range that humans cannot hear. The human range of hearing stretches as high as about 20 kHz while some bat echolocation calls reach upwards of 140 kHz.

Let's end with a few more facts.

Bats are the only flying mammals. Flying squirrels merely glide. Also, there are about 1,100 species of bats with 15 here in Oregon. Bats make up a whopping 25 percent of all mammal species, outnumbered only by rodents who belong in a different family. And no, bats are not rodents but are more closely related to lemurs - which are primates just like us.

Check out another awesome BLM bat story!