Have you heard the scary campfire stories about bats getting caught in Grandma’s hair? What about the even scarier one about the vampire bat that sucks blood from your neck while you’re sleeping? Or maybe the one where the bat flew down the chimney to frighten the kids to bed? Well, none of these stories are true.
According to the experts and many factual websites about this non-fictional, beloved - yet frightful to some - flying mammal, there are many myths that need to be cleared up. Let’s find out for ourselves and share the facts with our friends and family.
Before we look at the myths, let’s review some of the facts:
- Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight, which alone is a true feat. Other mammals (humans) need planes to do that!
- Bats have extremely elongated fingers with wing membrane stretched between them, resembling a human hand.
- Bats can be as tiny as a bumblebee or nearly as big as an eagle.
- There are almost 1,000 bat species worldwide. In fact, bats make up a quarter of all mammal species on earth. Now that’s a lot of bats. In Alberta, there are only 9 species of bats and they all eat bugs.
- Bats are nocturnal, meaning they are only awake at night.
- Bats live in colonies of 50 to several hundred bats and roost during the day in trees, bat boxes, barns, and caves.
Myth 1: A bat will get caught in Grandma’s hair.
A bat won’t get caught in Grandma’s hair, nor will it hit a tree, or run into any of their hundreds of colony members out hunting the skies for bugs. Bats have a special way of navigating – a highly sophisticated sense of hearing. Bats emit ultrasonic pulses of sound as they fly. The sounds bounce off objects and then echo back to the bat, showing them what is in front of them. So a bat would not get tangled in Grandma’s hair – even in the dark – because the bat will hear Grandma well in advance in the form of an echo.
Myth 2: Bats are vampires that want to suck your blood.
All bat species in Canada are insectivorous meaning they only eat insects. One little brown bat can eat 900 mosquitoes in one hour! Imagine how many insects a colony of 400 bats can eat in an entire summer! Bats are really great at controlling pesky insect populations. If you want bats to help you manage mosquitoes, you can make a bat box and hang it up nearby so the bats have a place to roost. Click here for lots of great info about bat boxes for Alberta bats.
There are actually 3 species of bats referred to as vampire bats that live in South and Central America. They feed entirely on blood - generally from livestock. The vampire bat lands near their prey and crawls up to it. They have a heat-seeking nose that allows them to locate a vein on their sleeping prey. The bat bites the vein and then laps up the blood as it flows out of the cut. They do not suck blood, but rather lap it up with their grooved tongue. The vampire bat’s saliva has special chemicals in it to numb the area of skin around the bite to prevent their prey from feeling anything.
Some bats even eat nectar, just like bees and hummingbirds, making them pollinators. They eat the sweet juices of fruits and flowers and help spread pollen to help plants and flowers continue to grow.
So now that we know the myths are not true and bats really aren’t that scary, let's help make our fellow mammals a home near our home and maybe teach others that bats are actually very helpful.
Just because bats come out at night while you’re sleeping or sitting around the campfire, doesn’t mean they are mean or scary. They are just busy eating all the flying insects that come around the fire light, so in the morning when you wake up and bats go to bed, there are 100,000,000 less mosquitoes to bother you.
Thank you for better understanding why bats are important in our world.
Susan C. Kokas, EALT Volunteer