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November 2, 2012

Bats don't deserve their bad rap

The Daily Star

---- — Black cats and bats, ghosts and goblins, haunted houses and creepy sounds all are associated with Halloween. Originally, it was All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve, a harvest festival. But somehow it became a festival of the dead with pagan roots.

Maybe that’s why bats and black cats have such a bad reputation. It’s been a superstition that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck, and bats _ well, they’re just plain evil.

I remember when I was a kid playing outside in the evening and the bats came out of the upper barn window to feed on insects. My mother told me to be careful because they’ll get in my hair.

What! Bats aren’t bad.

Alright, they hang upside down to sleep. And they look a little creepy with their webbed wings wrapped around their bodies. They slightly resemble an evil henchman in a black cape, but that doesn’t make them second class animals. Bats are really amazing.

But they’ve earned the similar reputation to snakes. Not many people have liked them ever since Adam ate the apple in the Garden of Eden, but they are helpful creatures in nature.

Anyway, back to bats.

There is a lot of misinformation concerning bats.

You’ve heard the expression – bats in your belfry or someone is batty. Wait a minute, where does insanity fit into this picture? Every church steeple had bats living up in the rafters. It was just a natural place to hang out. Maybe it’s because they sleep right through the ringing of those massive bells every day that people think they’re crazy.

And what about being blind as a bat? Bats have eyes and can actually see quite well. They cannot see color, but they see very well at night. Many bats use a type of radar called echolocation to find flying insects while feeding.

Then there’s that idea that bats are vampires and suck blood. Boy, the film industry has capitalized on that one. We’ve all seen the vampire climb out of his coffin dressed in a black cloak and turn into a bat to fly away and search out his next victim.

There are vampire bats in Central and South America, but they don’t just land on someone’s neck and suck their blood. They actually land on sleeping animals, put a tiny slice in their skin and lap up the blood that flows from the wound. The bat’s saliva actually contains an anesthetic that keeps the animal from feeling the prick.

OK, bats have rabies. At least, some do.

We’re told you shouldn’t handle a bat if you find one in your house. You can ask my son about that. He and his wife, Melissa, had to have a multitude of shots because of doing just that.

Actually, under a half of one percent of bats carry the rabies virus. In the past 40 years fewer than 40 people in the United States have contracted rabies from bats. But be on the safe side and avoid handling them.

But seriously, why would you want to handle them? Bats aren’t cute, adorable creatures that you want to pick up and cuddle like a little kitten. I’m sorry, but they are kind of ugly. They don’t really make good pets.

Today bats are on the decrease because of a fungus called white nose syndrome. It has killed more than seven million bats.

So what do you say? When you’re sitting out some summer night and the mosquitoes are eating you alive, you might wish there were more bats around. They eat thousands of those pesky little insects every night.

You don’t have to like bats, but you sure should appreciate them.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at