Bat Facts

Here is a collection of bat facts you may not know!

  • Nearly 1/4 of all mammal species are bats. That’s around 1,000 kinds of bats!
  • Bats are mammals. They are the only mammals that can fly.
  • Bats are the slowest reproducing mammal on the earth for their size, most producing only one young (pup) per year.
  • Vampire bats, which do feed on blood, account for only 3 of the world’s species of bats and live only in Latin America.
  • Bats are not blind and many have excellent vision.
  • Bats do not attack people. Bats are quite timid; however, they will defend themselves. The biggest health risk that people face from bats is their own fearful reaction to them. More people injure themselves in their frenzied escapes from bats swooping for insects than are ever harmed by them.
  • Most bats are predators of night flying insects, like mosquitoes.
  • Guano (bat droppings) makes excellent fertilizer. However, you should avoid using a bucket or deep container to catch the droppings under a roost. Bat pups may fall out of the house and become trapped inside the container.
  • A single little brown bat can consume more than 1,000 mosquito sized insects in an hour. Consider that a modest colony of 75 bats can devour up to 75,000 insects in a single hour. A single chamber house of BCI design can hold a colony of 50 little brown bats; while larger nursery boxes (like the 4 chamber nursery box) can house hundreds.
  • Bats have been known to live more than 30 years!
  • Bats in some parts of the world can have wing spans up to 6 feet! In the U.S., the largest bat is the Western Mastiff with a wing span measuring in at 2 feet. Then there are some bats weighing less than a single penny.
  • Most bats cannot take flight from the ground. They must drop 2 or 3 feet before they can fly.
  • Bats do not hunt you down to jump in your hair and get tangled. I can only imagine some poor woman had a random encounter with a bat to start this rumor.  
  • Putting up a bat house will not encourage bats to move into your attic.  If your attic is a suitable roost and accessible, they’re already there. Likewise, putting up a bat house will not keep them out of your attic. Bats find a habitat where they can and any opportunity will be seized. A bat house should be included in any plan to exclude an existing colony from a structure.  If you don’t provide a place for the evicted colony, they could be forced to roost in less attractive areas such as behind gutters or they could die.
  • Bats do not interfere with birds. They rarely compete for the same food and do not occupy the same areas.

Bats and Disease

  • Bats are not immune to rabies nor are they predisposed to contract rabies. They are no more likely to contract the disease than any other mammal, but it seems they are much less likely to transmit it. Since they are so small, the disease kills them quickly and they rarely become aggressive. As with any other animal, if you see a bat acting oddly, like being out during the day or walking on the ground, leave it alone.
  • Bats do not transmit West Nile Virus, mosquitoes do. If you are concerned about West Nile Virus, you should concentrate on reducing the mosquito population.  One way to accomplish that is to increase the bat population in your area.
  • Most mammals can contract rabies, but less than 1/2 of 1 percent of bats become infected and these rarely attack people, even when sick. Far more people die each year from dog attacks, bee stings, power mower accidents, or even from being struck by lightning.

There has been considerable debate over bats and rabies recently. Some statements taken out of context make it seem as if bats are an epidemic and public health threat. While the core fact of a statement may be true the entire context should be understood so you can appreciate the true meaning of the data. The CDC has published the statement “The most common source of human rabies in the USA is from bats.” While the CDC has done the research and this may be true the media fails to bring drama to the rest of the information. Here is the entire paragraph as stated by the CDC.

“Rabies in humans is rare in the USA. There are usually 1-2 human cases per year. The most common source of human rabies in the USA is from bats. For example, among the 19 naturally acquired cases of rabies in humans in the USA from 1997-2006, 17 were associated with bats. Among these, 14 patients had known encounters with bats. Four people awoke because a bat landed on them and one person awoke because a bat bit him (these events occurred within their primary residences). One person was reportedly bitten by a bat from outdoors while he was exiting from his residence. Six persons had a history of handling a bat while removing it from their primary residences. One person was bitten by a bat while releasing it outdoors after finding it on the floor inside a building. One person picked up and tried to care for a sick bat found on the ground outdoors. Three males ages 20, 29 and 64 had no reported encounters with bats but died of bat-associated rabies viruses.

Once you read the entire statement you begin to realize a few things. We are talking about 17 “associated” cases over the course of a decade. Of these cases 8 of them involved people who intentionally handled a sick bat. After reading the entire statement it should be clear that rabid bats are not an epidemic but rather a rare occurrence at best. Having had direct experience with people and bats illustrates that we ourselves skew the numbers in favor of contracting the disease from bats. It seems we are much more likely to try and pickup and assist a sick bat than say a squirrel, a raccoon or a fox.

Even the CDC acknowledges the low risk and the benefits of bats in the ecosystem. Visit the CDC bat pages.

Never pick up any wild animal, including bats, that are acting oddly. If you do need to remove a bat from your home you should first try to open the door and let it fly out on its own. If that doesn’t work you should use leather gloves and a shoe box to carefully trap the bat and release it outside.


References:

Organizations:
Bat Conservation International
The world of bats is large and diverse. Many people claim to know all about them but the leading researchers and experts are located at Bat Conservation International (BCI). You can visit their website at www.batcon.org or contact them through their website. They are truly wonderful people who genuinely care about bats.

Center for Disease Control
www.cdc.gov

Books:
Americas Neighborhood Bats by Dr. Merlin Tuttle
Bats in Questions by Don E. Wilson
Bats of America by Barbour & Davis

Videos:
Building Homes for Bats