Animal of the High Desert: Bats!

 Bats: Myth vs. Reality 


Bats, the only truly flying mammals, account for almost one quarter of the entire number of mammal species.  Although they tend to be lumped together as simply “bats,” there are actually nearly 1,000 different species of bats.  Seven species of bats visit or live on the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, or INL.  Four of these species live here year-round.


The defining characteristic of bats is their wings, which are simply extended hands.  Their long fingers are connected by a thin, sturdy membrane, somewhat like webbed feet on a duck.  Many bats use echolocation to “see” their surroundings.  This is a sensory system with which a bat makes high-pitched sounds that echo back to it when the sound waves hit an obstacle.  Human-created sonar is similar to a bat’s echolocation system, but our sonar is much less sophisticated.


Another characteristic that most bats have in common is the animosity that many humans feel toward them.  These feelings are unfounded.  Unfortunately, due to persecution by humans and a loss of habitat, many bats also share the danger of extinction.  The following myths and facts should clear up some of the misconceptions about these beneficial, yet  misunderstood, animals. 


Myth #1 +  Bats are blind.  While we often hear the phrase, “blind as a bat,” most bats actually have very good eyesight.  Their echolocation capabilities help bats find their way in the dark, but do not replace eyesight.


Myth #2  + Bats will fly into people and even get caught in people’s long hair.  Bats’ agility when flying allows them to change directions quickly and at the last second.  While this may give the impression that bats will collide with us, their echolocation abilities keep them well aware of the obstacles around them.


Myth #3  + Bats will bite people to suck their blood.  While so-called “vampire” bats do exist, only three, of the almost 1,000 species of bats, consume blood.  These bat species are found in South America, Central America, and Mexico.  Most bats eat insects and fruit.


Myth #4  + Bats are “bad” and “scary” creatures that we don’t want around.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  Bats are natural pest control agents; an individual bat can eat hundreds of insects an hour.  Other bats disperse tree seeds, while others pollinate flowers.

Bats are highly intelligent and are not aggressive creatures.   Like people, they simply want to be left alone.