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Get to Know Your ‘Batty’ Neighbors

by Carolee James

Whether you are a new transplant to the Mother Lode or have lived here all your life, you probably have already seen your ´batty´ neighbors, but haven´t met them up close and personal. And that´s a good thing! These ´neighbors´ really don´t want you to become personal friends. They don´t speak the same language and they definitely don´t want you to shake their hand or give them a hug. In fact, the only thing they want from you is to be left alone to do their job. And that job is to clear the environment of pesky flying night creatures like moths, mosquitoes, gnats, midges, etc. Or ground dwelling insects like scorpions, grasshoppers, and beetles. Of course, I´m not talking about a human neighbor, but rather an animal neighbor… a bat!

With Halloween just a few days away, bats will be displayed as scary, dirty, blood-sucking creatures. In fact, they are clean insect eaters that pollinate trees, shrubs, and food plants. From my perspective, they are quite amazing animals. Bats are mammals and not rodents as some folks think. Bats do not injure or kill any insect or animal that is beneficial to humans; they do not eat or injure crops of any kind; they are major pollinators in many countries, and for some plants they are the only pollinators! Their guano (bat droppings) is quite rich organically and makes a wonderful fertilizer. In fact, some tropical plant seeds will only germinate if processed by a bat! By the way, do you know how to tell bat guano from rat or mice droppings? If the little black pellet turns to dust when you step on it, it´s bat guano. Rodent pellets will not turn to dust! I enjoy finding bat guano, because I know I have an insect-eating neighbor!

One of the biggest problems faced by bats is the misconception that all bats have rabies. In fact, statistics have shown that less than one half of one percent of bats contract rabies. As with any wild animal, bats will bite only in self-defense and pose little threat to people who do not handle them. Did you know that the only test for rabies in bats is to euthanize them and examine their brain tissue? I recently spoke with Laura Murphy who heads the Rose Wolfe Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Center. She stated that she had rescued a few bats this year, but because the persons who found the bats, though not bitten, had picked them up with bare hands, they all had to be euthanized to be tested for rabies. None of them had the disease so these were needless deaths. So PLEASE…DO NOT EVER PICK UP A BAT ON THE GROUND WITH YOUR BARE HANDS! If you see a bat on the ground, place a small towel over it and with gloved hands, wrap the towel under it and place it in a small box. Cover the box and keep it somewhere warm until you can get it to a rescue site or person.

Bats may be on the ground for a variety reasons. Pups (bat babies) often fall from roosts and since they weigh almost as much as their mothers, the moms can´t pick them up. Wing tears can happen when a bat gets tangled in something (bats do not like being tangled up, hence they will not try to get in your hair). And young bats can break wing bones when first learning to fly. So you see there are other causes why a bat may be on the ground other than having rabies. If they are not touched with bare hands they can be cared for and released back into the wild.

Here are some interesting bat facts:

Bats are not blind. All bats see and some species even see colors.

Bats seldom transmit disease to other animals.

A single little brown bat can catch 600 mosquitoes in just one hour!

A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from up to 18 million or more rootworms each summer.

The 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats from Bracken Cave in Texas eat 250 tons of insects nightly!

Tropical bats are key elements in rain forest ecosystems, which rely on them to pollinate flowers and disperse seeds for countless trees and shrubs.

In the wild, important plants from bananas, breadfruit and mangoes to cashews, dates and figs rely on bats for pollination and seed disposal.

Like margaritas? Tequila is produced from agave plants whose seed production drops to 1/3,000 of normal without bat pollination!

Desert ecosystems rely on nectar-feeding bats as primary pollinators of giant cacti, including the famous organ pipe and saguaro of Arizona.

Bats only produce one pup a year and nearly 40% of American bat species are in severe decline or are already listed as endangered. Losses are occurring at alarming rates worldwide.

Learn more interesting facts about bats at Bat Conservation International Inc. Their website is www.batcon.org. You will be amazed at what there is to learn about these fascinating animals.

And should a bat find its way into your home… don´t panic. Just turn off all the lights inside the house, open a window, and turn on an outside light. The bat will find its way out. This is the easiest and safest solution for both animal and human.

Do welcome these small, night flying creatures as your neighbors. They ask for nothing except to eat some bothersome pests. You may find some guano where they roost, or bits and pieces of their evening meal lying about that might annoy you, but keep in mind that the bats are doing only good things for the environment around you.

Carolee James has several bats living in the eaves and under her deck. She delights in finding guano in new places because that means more bats are around!!