Is it true that...?
Bats fly into your hair?
At times I’ve worked in bat caves and roosts for hours at time and have been in a multitude of bat roosts during research and never has a single bat flown into my hair and become entangled there. Of course, if one is in a bat cave with over 20 000 bats living in one relatively small chamber and they get a fright, they may flutter around in confusion and occasionally a bat will accidently touch a person or perhaps even land on them for a rest, but bats don’t purposefully attack people or aim for their hair when they see someone walking by. (Although common sense will tell you that it might be unwise to have a hairdo like Tina Turner from the 80’s when visiting bat caves!)
Bats are blind?
No, definitely not; in fact they can see much better than humans can. Just think of a small insect like a mosquito flying at night in the dark in your garden. Would you be able to see it and keep your eye on it? I wouldn’t. So if a bat can see the mosquito and chase after it to prey on it, then it must have better eyesight than humans. Yes, insect-eating bats do use a sophisticated radar-like navigation method called echolocation, and this enables them to “see” in a pitch-black cave or on a dark moonless night, but, if energy use is considered, that would be a very costly way of navigation. So the obvious solution is to use their eyesight when enough moonlight is available, and their echolocation when it is not. Generally bats simultaneously use both their eyes and echolocation to find insects or avoid flying into obstacles, except when they are in a cave where no light exists at all.
Bats in your roof will infest your family with parasites and
People usually fear that fleas living on bats will jump over to humans and spread throughout the home. The reality is that the majority of bat parasites are actually flies. These are very unique and specialised parasitic flies that have evolved over thousands of years with bats, and therefore feed very specifically on bats. One such example is a wingless fly from the family Nycteriibidae; these parasites will remind you more of a spider than a fly and are very agile when moving around on a bat. I have witnessed many of these parasites on bats and even when holding such a bat in my hand, this wingless fly will run in panic on the bat but won’t even touch my skin. In fact, these parasites avoid contact with human skin at all costs. Because bats don’t usually share a roost with any other mammals it means that their parasites are only accustomed to bats and cannot thrive on other mammals. They die soon after bats are removed from a roost.
It is realistic to admit that a large colony of bats living in a house roof may be a discomfort. Such a large colony might be noisy, the guano can smell and the moisture can also damage your ceiling boards. But fortunately EcoSolutions have expertise in excluding bats from your house roof without killing the bats; furthermore they can provide you with a bat house to keep these friendly and helpful allies in your backyard.
Some bats are blood-sucking vampires?
Yes, some are. But fortunately no bats in Africa suck blood. The vampire bats living in South America are not as aggressive and sadistic as one might imagine a vampire to be. Rather, they will wait until animals, such as cattle for example, are asleep and then make a small incision in the animal’s skin and lap up drops of blood. Remember, they probably don’t want the animal to wake up and spoil their meal so they try to be as gentle and undamaging as possible. Added to this, the human race has benefited greatly from new blood-thinning medicine invented after studying the anti-coagulants present in the saliva of vampire bats. This blood-thinning medicine is vital for patients whose arteries in the heart or lungs have become blocked as a result of a tendency to form blood clots, which can be potentially fatal.
You will get rabies if bitten by a bat?
Some bats, like all wild animals, can potentially be infected with viral diseases such as rabies, but there is very little likelihood of this. It is however a sensible precaution to handle any wild animals with gloves. If you encounter a bat lying on the ground it may be sick and should therefore be picked up with a cloth or gloves and put on a high perch such as a tree outside your house. The high perch will allow the bat to fly away easily if it is not sick, and may prevent children picking it up if it is sick. Very few cases of rabies fatalities caused by bats have been recorded in South Africa. The fact is that most recorded cases of people getting rabies are as a result of their having been bitten by abandoned domestic dogs that are carrying the disease.
Bats are creepy and scary, maybe even evil?
Why are bats so creepy to most people? Perhaps it might be that they are perceived as mice or rats with wings, which is totally untrue. Bats are NOT rodents and not even closely related; they are more closely related to humans, if the skeletal anatomy and other characteristics such as teeth and skull are considered. Because bats are active at night and some species live in caves or usually dark and unseen places, the media have associated them with scary and monstrous creatures, Halloween, Dracula, and overall spookiness. You might be surprised to learn that bats are considered a symbol of good luck and good fortune in China, Cuba and the Pacific Islands2.
Generally most people see only a quick glimpse of a bat at night, and then fill in the rest of the creature’s appearance from their imagination. And everyone knows that imagination can be much scarier than reality, especially when one remembers the childhood frights from silly things like the wind blowing on the house roof or a cat scratching against the front door. It is time to set aside the silly fears and phobias and have a closer look at these fascinating animals, which are actually small, furry and rather timid.