I love bats.
The first thing I remember noticing while riding on motorcycles was the bats. I never saw them while driving my car. But there they were the whole time, swooping overhead in amazing numbers at dusk.
Bats get a bad rap. Especially this time of year, in the Halloween season, when they're associated with vampires, monsters and other horrible things. But let's get something straight: These are our only flying mammals -- their babies drink mom's milk and cling to her for support when they are small.
The reason they come swooping around at dusk is they're scooping up mouthfuls of mosquitoes, ash borers and other pesky bugs. In fact, a bat eats far more mosquitoes the celebrated purple martin -- up to 4,000 a night.
According to a paper by Dr. Robert Corrigan, reprinted by the Texas Mosquito Control Association, "With the exception of only a very few species of bats found in the Southwest that feed on nectar, pollen and fruit, the 40 different bat species of the United States feed exclusively on insects. ... Bats are biologically useful mammals, and are a very important and unique part of our wildlife. People should protect and even encourage bat populations outside and away from our buildings."
Here are a few other facts to learn about our flying friends.
Horror Myth No. 1: "They have rabies!"
Well, they can carry rabies, but so can dogs and cats, and we don't generally avoid them.
According to Bat Conservation International, "Bat rabies accounts for approximately one human death per year in the United States. Thus, some people consider bats to be dangerous. Nevertheless, dogs, which often are considered 'man's best friend,' attack and kill more humans annually than die from bat rabies in a decade. Statistically speaking, pets, playground equipment, and sports are far more dangerous than bats. Clearly, bats do not rank very high among mortality threats to humans. Nevertheless, prudence and simple precautions can save lives."
In fact, bats are in greater danger from natural and manmade threats than we are from them. An Oct. 1 article from Capital News Service says wind turbines, habitat destruction and a fungal infection from Europe called "white nose syndrome" are threatening our bats. Michigan officials say the fungus hasn't yet reached our state, but they are devising a response plan in case it does appear here.
Horror Myth No. 2: Bats suck your blood.
True, vampire bats do live on blood. But they don't live around here, and they don't attack humans. They range from Mexico into South America, where they feed on livestock and birds. Their saliva contains a substance called -- and I'm not making this up -- draculin, an anticoagulant to keep the blood flowing. That has been used in heart attack and stroke patients, to keep their blood from clotting and blocking arteries.
Horror Myth No. 3: Bats are ugly.
I admit the vampire variety are kind of creepy looking ...
... but fruit bats are downright adorable.
|Brown bats, native to Michigan, are quite tiny.|
(The Associated Press)
|Jeremy Antrim of the Organization for Bat |
Conservation talks to youngsters while an
Egyptian fruit bat hangs from his shirt.
(Oakland Press file photo)
You can learn a lot about bats at the Bat Zone of Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills.
If you love bats as I do, consider building or buying a bat house to hang at your own home and invite them to be your neighbors. Instructions for building a bat house and how to set it up effectively to keep your new neighbors happy are available on eHow.com.
They like to stay in barns, and I live near a few of those. So when I ride my bike home in the evening, I see a dozen of them swooping overhead in the waning light, their wings fluttering as they dart and zig-zag from juicy bug to juicy bug.
They look so free, it just makes me smile.