Conserve Wildlife Blog

Bloodsuckers and Blind? Hardly – Exploding the Myths of Bats

October 15th, 2014

Hard to believe, but October is already here! And that can only mean one thing — bats! Everyday throughout the month of October, follow CWF on social media and our blog to fly high with these incredible creatures of the night! Each day we will have fun facts, quizzes, and beautiful photos highlighting these amazing animals and the work CWF does to protect them.

The first week we gave an overview of bats in New Jersey with a news article written by CWF Wildlife Biologist MacKenzie Hall. Last week we discussed some threats bats face today. Today we will debunk myths about bats, and later this month we will give examples of ways you can help and CWF Wildlife Ecologist Stephanie Feigin will share some stories from the field!

Make sure to follow us everyday on Facebook and Twitter and read our blog every Friday for our #31daysofbats!

by Sarah Bergen

A bat emerges from its summer roost site. © MacKenzie Hall

A bat emerges from its summer roost site. © MacKenzie Hall

Bats tend to have the reputation of being mysterious creatures of the night. The extent of most peoples’ interactions with bats is limited to a fleeting glimpse in the dark of the night. Because we do walk amongst these species, there is often a lack of understanding and even fear surrounding bats.

So let’s clear up some myths and misconceptions that are often associated with these creatures. Despite common beliefs that bats are blind, rabies-ridden bloodsuckers, they are actually an extraordinary mammal that is valuable to eco-systems all over the world. All bats in the United States are insectivores, and can eat up thousands of bugs in a single night. Because they control the populations of many pests, they are a priceless factor in agriculture, only to be replaced by harmful pesticides. A recent study published in Science magazine estimates that bats’ insect-eating services may be worth as much as $53 billion to US agriculture alone (click here to read about it).

  • “Blind as a bat.” Not exactly. The assumption that all bats are blind is completely false. Many bats primarily use echolocation to locate their prey, since it can give them a much more accurate picture of objects and pray in complete darkness. In reality, most bats have very good vision, possibly even as sharp as a human’s 20/20 vision.
  • Bats are not flying blood-suckers that may sweep into your bedroom and leave you lifeless in bed! In fact, the bats that inhabit the United States are completely harmless. Americans should not fear the bite of a bat or the contraction of rabies from the creatures because North American bats live off of insects and have no interest in sucking your blood. Studies show that less than 1% of bats contract rabies; rabid bats tend to become solitary and die quickly, and unlike raccoons, cats, dogs, and other animals, they rarely become aggressive.

In the countries that are inhabited by vampire bats, there are only three sanguivorous, or blood-drinking bat species, that inhabit Mexico, South, and Central America. Vampire bat species include the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat. These three species are the only mammals on the planet that survive solely on blood. The rarity of this characteristic surely contributed to the fear that now surrounds them, which is only magnified by the many popular films that feature vampires.

Vampire bat photo credit: National Geographic

Vampire bat photo credit: National Geographic

But even those bloodsuckers do not usually target humans as their food source. These three species tend to prey on birds and sleeping cattle and horses. Contrary to how vampire bats are portrayed in films, they do not suck blood out of their prey, but instead lap it up with their long tongues for about 30 minutes. These species do not take enough blood to cause any harm to their prey, but they can spread rabies and other diseases and the development of infection is a possibility. Cattle industries in these countries are being negatively impacted, and scientists are working to find a solution.

Since the 1970s, efforts to control the spread of rabies through bats have focused on culling, or killing bats through the use of poison and even explosives. A poisonous paste is applied to a captured bat, which then spreads the paste among its colony through grooming after it is released. However, poison has been found to be unsuccessful by numerous studies because it only targets adult bats, many of which have developed immunity to rabies, and fails to affect juvenile bats, which are less likely to groom older bats, as well as develop immunity. A better alternative practice that does not involve the killing of innocent bats is the immunization of livestock. It has even been found that the revaccination of cows during pregnancy allows an immunity to develop in the calves.

Bats have developed a reputation as being creepy creatures of the night, but are, in reality, valuable to our eco-system and agricultural economy. As communities celebrate Halloween, and bats with sharp fangs decorate homes, be sure to remember the bright side to bats.

Sarah Bergen is a communications intern with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey

Tags: , , , , ,

One Response to “Bloodsuckers and Blind? Hardly – Exploding the Myths of Bats”

  1. how do bat drink blood and what do they do to get the Blood. I also like how they fly in the night I sometimes see them at night they are pretty cool when they fly in the night sky’s. They are also when I see them they are brown and black. Thanks so much for teaching me so much about bats