Animal Tails: Bats, a creature with a bad rap

 
 Photo courtesy of Metro Parks
 It is mating season for several species of bat in Ohio. Shown here is the little brown bat, the most common bat in the state.

They are known as bloodsuckers and creatures of the night. People just do not like bats, but experts say there is really nothing to fear.

If you notice bats flying around this time of year, it is not because of Halloween. It is mating season for the furry flying mammals. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), bats are the only mammal that can fly. Their existence dates back 50 million years.

Bats in Ohio

There are 13 species of bat in Ohio. The most abundant species in the state are the little brown bat and the big brown bat.

The little brown bat is the most common in the state. They are dark brown and approximately five inches long, weighing between 19 and 34 ounces. Their peak breeding, or warming, season is September and October. The little brown bats can live anywhere, but they are known to prefer tree cavities. They migrate to the caves of southern Ohio for hibernation in the colder months.

Though most people believe bats feed on human blood, the little brown bat actually eats insects. They feed about an hour or two after sunset in the summer.

The big brown bat is also common in Ohio and is a bit larger than the little brown bat.

Their peak mating season is August through October. They have long, silky brown hair and eat insects.

These creatures use man-made structures for hibernation, such as bridges and buildings. They can live in a variety of habitats, including fields, forests, urban and suburban areas.

According to Jill Snyder, a naturalist with Three Creeks Metro Park, the big brown bat is the most common bat in central Ohio.


The myth

We have all heard the saying "he’s blind as a bat." Snyder said bats are not blind.

"They actually have pretty good vision," she said.

The creatures do not use their eyesight to hunt for food. They use their hearing.

According to ODNR, the ears of most bats are long compared to the rest of their body size, which results in acute hearing. The bats emit high frequency sounds, which then would bounce off the prey, then return to the bats’ ears. They use this information to find the bugs.

Another myth is that bats are attracted to hair. Snyder said she does not know where this idea came from. Some people believe bats find human hair and nest.

"It is just not true," said Snyder.

Of course, the biggest myth is that the mammals want to suck human blood.

"People think bats are monsters, because that is how they are portrayed on TV and in Hollywood," said Snyder.

There is only one species of bat that feeds on blood; that is the vampire bat. Snyder explained that even this bat would have very little interest in human blood. She said they mostly feed on cattle and what they take is a minimal amount of blood.

Not to worry, this creature is not native to North America. It is found in Central and South America.

Rabies

It is not a myth that bats can carry rabies, as can most wild animals.

"They can carry rabies, but it is very unusual that people would get it from them," said Snyder. "Less than 1 percent of rabies cases in humans come from bats."

According to ODNR, bats are the most frequent rabies-positive animals examined by the Ohio Department of Health each year. However, the findings are that only about six to 25 animals test positive for rabies out of hundreds.

ODNR information explained that in the 1960s and 1970s skunks and foxes were the primary source of rabies in wild animals. Now, the bats take honors. In the future, experts say raccoons will be the primary source.


Other batty facts

According to experts, attacks by bats on humans or domestic animals are very rare, even when they are provoked.

The flying mammals are important to the environment, agriculture and the economy.

Plant species depend on bats for propagation. They aid in the pollination of bananas, avocados, dates and cashews.  They also help to reduce the insect population.

For information on bat management and education programs, contact Metro Parks or ODNR.  

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