Bats are blood-sucking, disease ridden, winged rats, right? Perhaps it’s because they are creatures of the night or because of their literary connection to Dracula. Whatever the reason, bats have a reputation as something to be feared and reviled. Although many myths hold a kernel of truth, most bats are more friend than foe. An important part of the ecosystem and a gardener’s ally, separating fact from fiction may have you reconsidering this “creepy” night stalker.
Myth: Bats are blood-suckers.
Nearly all bats feed not on blood, but insects, fruit, or nectar. Of the over eleven hundred species of bats, only three, found only in Central and South America, drink blood. One feeds on cattle and the other two on birds. They do not actually suck blood, but cut into the hide with sharp teeth and lap at the incision (usually less than a teaspoon).
Myth: All bats carry rabies.
Bats aren’t any more likely to carry the disease than other mammals. Although rabies is a concern, as with many animals, fewer than one-half of one percent of bats contract the disease and the likelihood of attack by infected bats is slim. As with all wild animals, it is still advisable to avoid physical contact.
Myth: Bats are winged rodents.
Although similar in size and build, bats actually have more in common with primates than rats or mice. Of the order Chiroptera (meaning "hand-winged") they do, of course, have wings and are the only mammal in existence capable of true flight.
Myth: Bats are aggressive toward people.
Most bats are docile and will only bite defensively. In most cases, people are bitten by bats only when attempting to handle or move them. If encountering an injured or otherwise grounded bat, it is advisable to contact animal control. Bats behaving erratically or aggressively may be ill and should be avoided.
Myth: Bats are blind.
Bats are born blind, but soon develop excellent eyesight, although they are unable to differentiate colors. This myth probably comes from their ability to hunt well at night, using echolocation (extremely efficient sonar capabilities) to target and collect prey.
Myth: Bats are pests.
There is truth in this myth, but perhaps not what one expects. Although bats nesting in attics, garages or other insecure structures can be a concern for homeowners, bats are opportunistic nesters and are incapable of directly causing damage to structures or wiring. They can, however, become a noisy and messy nuisance when taking up occupancy in houses. Trapping is not recommended, as bats have excellent homing capabilities and will return to the site even from great distances. The safest way to remedy a problem with bats nesting in attics or walls is to locate and seal any potential entry points while bats are out.
Bats may be unwelcome house guests, but encouraging them to nest in nearby locations can be a great boon to gardeners or those who like to spend time outdoors. Almost all of the 40-50 species of bats in the United States are prodigious insect-eaters, feasting on anywhere from 600 to 1000 night-flying insects per feeding hour, including mosquitoes and many garden pests. These nocturnal insectivores ease the impact of pests on home gardens and save commercial farmers estimated billions in crop loss and pesticide costs.
Ready to welcome these misunderstood beneficial predators into your yard? Adding late-day or night blooming plants to your garden will increase your yard appeal to bats. Try moonflowers, honeysuckle, or evening primrose. Adding a simple wooden bat house to your yard will also offer bats a safe place to roost without the need for cave or belfry.