Spotlight: The Truth about Bats
Superstitions and myths about bats are as common as candy wrappers on Halloween—but not nearly as interesting as the truth!
Halloween collects bats along with witches, vampires, and ghosts in its net of mystery and fear, but the truth about bats is that they are amazingly diverse and beneficial creatures. Set superstitions aside, and you'll find that we need bats, and bats need us--now more than ever.
A fungal disease known as White Nose Syndrome, harmless to humans but deadly to bats, is spreading across North America. Learn more in the video White Nose Syndrome and Bats courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and learn what you can do to help protect bats from this deadly disease.
What You’ll Find
The truth about bats is:
- Bats are not rodents—they are mammals more closely related to humans, and the only mammals to truly fly.
- Bats are not blind—their eyesight is actually quite good.
- Bats are clean animals—they groom themselves similar to the way cats do.
- Bats have a very low incidence of rabies—less than one half of one percent.
- Very few bats feed on blood. Contrary to popular folklore, only three species of bats are “vampire bats” (none in the U.S.). Most bats in the U.S. feed on insects; some feed on nectar and pollen.
- Bats will not get in your hair—they use echolocation—“bat radar”— to navigate and are exceptionally good at NOT flying into things. Kids: enjoy the fun music video Echolocation, courtesy of Bat Conservation International.
Because bats are small, secretive and feed at night, many people have never seen them. Your best chance to see bats in flight is where night-flying insects abound, such as next to a stream, lake, or pond, over a meadow or large lawn, or along a forest edge. You might even see them around bright street or porch lights. For bat destinations visit Bat Conservation International’s Bat Viewing Sites around the World.
Campers who stay outdoors later at night may have a better chance at spotting a bat. Watch for bats darting about and catching insects over the light of your campfire. Find your campsite on the Recreation.gov search page, or try these “best bets for bats” on federal lands: Bandelier National Monument (group campsites are reservable), Lava Beds and Nickajack Lake (both offer first-come, first-serve camping only), Mammoth Cave National Park, Pinnacles National Monument (campsites are reservable) and Point Reyes National Seashore.
Make Sure You
Witness bats emerging from their roosting places at dusk. Some well-known bat flights occur at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Sauta National Wildlife Refuge and even the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas. Watch this video to see the first place thirsty bats visit after they emerge at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.
Build a bat house for your own backyard! Download these instructions, courtesy of the Hoosier National Forest.
Bats need shelter to provide safety from predators, for hibernation, or for protection from extreme weather. Many bats prefer the shelter of bat houses, barns, attics, caves or abandoned mines, hollow trees or rock crevices. At Aroostook National Wildife Refuge they’ve even converted decommissioned military bunkers into bat hibernation places.
Do you enjoy bananas, peaches, bread-fruit, mangoes, cashews, almonds, dates, figs or chocolate? These are some of the most important crops that rely on bats for pollination and seed-dispersal. Learn more by watching the video We Need Bats, Bats Need Us from Bat Conservation International.
Learn more about bats on these federal agency web pages and channels:
- The Lives of Bats, and Why They Matter courtesy of Blanchard Springs Caverns (Ozark-St. Francis National Forest).
- Spooky and Special from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Bats in Crisis, a four-part video series from the National Park Service.
- Bat Facts from the Smithsonian.
Did You Know?
- There are more than 1,000 species of bats living throughout the world—one-fourth of all mammals—and many of these live in the U.S.
- While a few mammals can glide short distances (“flying” squirrels, for example), bats are the only mammals that can truly fly.
- Bats are a symbol of good luck and happiness in China.
- An anti-coagulant enzyme in vampire bats’ saliva may help stroke victims.
- Little brown bats have life spans that may exceed 32 years.
- A bat will eat half its weight in insects in a single night.
- The Bumblebee Bat, with a 6-inch wing span is the world’s smallest bat.
- The Flying Fox, with a wingspan of 78 inches, is the world’s largest.