I used to be scared of bats. Let’s be honest, their tiny faces can be terrifying at first glance. On top of that, plenty of myths about bats fed my fears.
But the truth is, once I learned a little bit about them, I realized they are some of the coolest creatures on earth. They rarely pose a threat to humans. In fact, if you hate mosquitos, you should probably love bats! Now, I think seeing a bat at dusk is a treat.
Here in North Central Washington, we’ve had a few encounters with bats in the last month. Learning a little bit about bats together might help families avoid negative experiences with bats in the future, and appreciate these tiny flying creatures for the wonders they are.
Bats aren’t even closely related to rodents, despite their appearance. They are the only mammals that can truly fly, rather than glide. The bones in a bat’s wing work like the bones of a human arm — but if our fingers were as long as a bat’s, they would be longer than our legs.
All our bats in Washington state — 15 different species — eat insects. In fact, one little brown bat can eat her body weight in insects each night in the summer. They are nocturnal, so you will rarely see a bat during the day.
Bats have very good hearing. To hunt, they bounce sound off their prey in a process called echolocation. When they find prey, they often scoop them into their tail or wing membranes, then put them in their mouths. This makes their flight patterns look erratic, but it’s actually very skillful!
Bats have very good eyesight. If they come close to your head, they’re usually chasing insects that are attracted by your body heat. They never get caught in hair, because they are too good at flying for that.
Lately, there have been some bats that have tested positive for rabies here in North Central Washington. This is pretty rare. Only about 1 in 20,000 bats has rabies. And bats with rabies rarely bite humans. Usually they become paralyzed and fall to the ground. Most people who have been bitten by a rabies-infected bat have tried to pick up a sick bat. That’s why it’s always best to call a professional to deal with any bats you find in your home. Near Wenatchee, Animal Care and Control (662-9577, Ext 1) is the right number to call.
For more information on bat encounters and how to keep them out of your home, visit wwrld.us/batinfo.
There are tons of interesting bat facts — too many to fit here. I encourage you to research on the internet or in your local library branch to find out more about bats. You will not be disappointed.
Go outside at dusk to look and listen for bats with your family. The best time to see them is on warm summer evenings starting around 30 minutes before dark. Find a place with lots of night-flying insects, like near water, a meadow or a forest edge. Artificial light, like a porchlight, helps as well. Stay very still and quiet — you will often hear the bats’ tiny squeaking echolocation calls before you see them.
What’s it like to use echolocation to get around? You can try it yourself. In a room in your house, click your tongue a few times. Now move closer to a wall and click your tongue again. Listen closely — can you hear the difference? Some people who are blind or who have limited eyesight have actually learned to get around by using echolocation.
If you’d like to take advantage of bats — to watch them, or to help control bugs — you can create a bat house for them. You don’t have to worry about encouraging them to move into your home, because if they wanted to live there, they already would. To find more information and bat house plans, visit wdfw.wa.gov/living/bats.html.
Hillary Clark is the membership and education coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. This piece previously appeared in The Wenatchee World. For more ways to get outside with your children, visit www.cdlandtrust.org/whats-new/events.