|The long-eared myotis is one of 15 bat species known to live in Oregon. Bats are ecologically important because they eat mosquitoes, moths, beetles and other pests. (ODFW photo)
CLACKAMAS, Ore. – Ghouls, goblins, and ghosts; witches, vampires and zombies – these and other creepy characters will be out in force this week trying to scare people out of their wits. It’s Halloween, after all, and these images are supposed to send shivers down your spine.
Another creature closely associated with Halloween is the bat. Don’t be tricked into thinking you need to be afraid of these animals, though, because bats are among the animal kingdom’s most gentle creatures, according to Susan Barnes, wildlife diversity biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Bats have been unfairly portrayed as scary or dangerous when nothing could be further from the truth,” said Barnes. “Bats play an important role in a healthy ecosystem.”
For example, bats eat mosquitoes, some of which carry diseases such as West Nile virus. One small bat is capable of eating 1,000 mosquito-sized insects per hour. They also prey on beetles, moths and other pests that can devastate valuable plants and crops.
The reality is bats probably have more to fear from humans than the other way around, according to Barnes, who noted that fear and ignorance have led humans to kill large numbers of bats. Often, these fears are based on common myths that have little basis in fact. One of the most common myths is that most bats carry rabies. While this is possible it is not likely, according to Barnes, who says that on average only about one in 1,000 wild bats carries the rabies virus.
Oregon is home to 15 species of bats, and only two documented human rabies cases in United States history have been attributed to those species. Domestic cats and dogs are much more likely to have rabies.
Barnes says bats should be left alone and treated with respect, and that people should never touch or pick them up because they may bite in self-defense like any other wild animal.
Other myths are that bats will get caught in your hair or suck your blood, neither of which is true.
You probably won’t see any real bats in the wild this Halloween because most Oregon bats are in hibernation this time of year. However, it is a good time to learn the truth about this popular Halloween figure.
The majority of Oregon’s bats are identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as species in need of help. To find more information about distribution, habitat and conservation actions that will help bats, visit the Conservation Summaries of Strategy Species on ODFW’ website, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/document_pdf/b-species_2.pdf.
Additional information about “Living with Bats” is also available on the ODFW website, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/bats.asp .