Monday, November 04, 2013

The Misplaced Horror Of Bats

Detective Comics # 27 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane

"Creature of the Night. Black. Terrible...A bat!"

Wow! Bats sound horrible. Terrifying! They must be terrible things, a blight on us! What will we do ?! How can we hope to fight back?!


...No. The reality of bats is far less scary. But, come on. Look at them. You shouldn't be surprised.

They are upside down puppies!

Like many lifeforms that people misunderstand, the bat receives a good deal of fearful hate. They get presented as evil creatures. Creature that are out to get you.

As a result, they don't get the respect or understanding that they deserve.

So let's get to know a little about the bat.

First, the legends. In the history of legends and folk tales, we have a far better track record with the bat.

  • In China, bats have long been a symbol of good luck through history.
  • In Ancient Egypt, bat talisman were hung over doors to keep illness away.
  • In Navajo folklore the bat is an ancient being from early in time, when all was dark, who mentored the night. 
  • One Ojibwa legend tells of the bat coming into being do to it's efforts to save the sun.
  • Among the Bakairi of Brazil, the bat is a form the goddess of night takes.
  • In many pre-Columbian tribes the bat held important symbolism for the sky and/or the underworld.
  • In some cultures the bat was a symbol of change and upheaval in one's life (not necessarily bad, but changes to your life).
  • Of course, in the European medieval period the bat was tied to witchcraft and witches, and were much reviled.
  • Of course there are the tales of the trickster to. Like in one Nigerian tale where the bat tricks a rat he's jealous of into boiling itself. (The fact the bat is an animal of the night lends itself to tales of a thief or one that is hiding. Aesop even uses this idea. Also the fact it flies, but isn't a bird, lends to the idea that it is an outsider in some tales. Sometimes it's existence was treated as a punishment.)

Now, let's get to the modern age and the science.

Bat Facts:
  • The fear of bats is called chiroptophobia. This comes from the Classification Order bats are under, Chiroptera (meaning "hand wing").
  • The bat is the only flying mammal. (No. Flying squirrels don't fly. But that is another story.)
  • Bats are not rats with wings. They are more closely related to hedgehogs, giraffes, and whales.
  • Bats range in size 1.7 meters to .29 millimeters (the smallest mammal alive today).
  • Bats are found on every continent, except Antarctica.
  • There is a vampire bat. But it only resides in South America, and some parts of the southern regions of North America. So if you live in Yorkshire, New York, New Dehli, etc, that isn't a vampire bat in the sky.
  • The diet of bats consists mainly of small insects. Bats aid in controlling pest levels. (In fact bats play an important ecological role. A single bat can consume 600 mosquito in an hour. This can be vital to many crops.)
  • Other species of bats feed on fruits, veggies, nectar, and pollen. Can you face the terror?!
  • These bats activities are exceedingly important to pollination, In fact the local varieties of these bats are vital to spreading local seeds. The Amazon rain forest keenly relies on it's bats. 
  • Some bats also feed on tiny animals, like small frogs and fish.
  • The vampire bat does feed on blood, but primarily there targets are large slow moving animals (cows, seals, etc.). A human has the pesky ability to slap them off, so we aren't desirable.
  • Bats use echolocation (like dolphins). It is a primary tool of most bats to navigate around. It's immensely useful in the night, and deep in dark cave. But bats are not blind. And most fruit bats do not even rely on echolocation, having very keen sight.
  • As the weather changes some bats migrate to nicer locales (like butterflies and geese). Others hibernate (like cuddly grizzly bears).
  • Some bat species actually nest upright, instead of upside down.
  • The Hardwicke's Woolly Bat of Borneo nests amongst a species of carnivorous plants. That's right the bat seems less scary then it's plant neighbor. These bats receive shelter from the plant, and then partially support the plant's needs via it's feces.
  • There is a weird myth that bats fly into people's hair. Bats don't do this. It would be hard to make this even happen by accident. And bats wouldn't even want to get in your hair. (They aren't into you!) I have seen this has been a concern going back into ancient folklore, like with the Celts, who warned of a dark end if a bat snatches one of your hairs. That's how silly the fear is.
  • Bat saliva has been found to carry anticoagulants. Research on this has lead to advances in treatment of heart disease.
Bats are amazing. Still bats shouldn't be played with. They are wild animals.
  • Bats aren't interested in biting humans. It can happen (if it is sick -- like with a raccoon or dog), but we aren't on the diet.
  • Bats can carry rabies, but the rate is .05%. Though sick or injured bats are slightly more likely to carry it. Hence why you shouldn't touch them, or other wild animals. Particularly don't touch them without proper protection.
  • You will have a good idea if it is sick, it will be out of place. If it is sitting alone on the ground or on a wall, and is quiet, you should stay away from it. And if you need to move it, use protection.
  • If you are bitten by a bat, you should go to a doctor, to be checked out and get rabies treatment. (As they don't attack humans when they are well, it is a necessary precaution.) But if you can catch the bat, it can be tested first.

What to do if a bat gets in your home? If you want to get rid of bats in your home/barn/etc,using lights and an easy open exit will motivate bats to leave, as it will be an unsuitable place to them. Then be sure there entry point is closed off. You don't have to resort to a broom and killing blows first and only.

Also, remember this. Bat populations are in decline. A fungus called White Nose Syndrome is attacking bats and killing them. It was first discovered in New York, but has spread west across the United States. It has killed millions of bats. And it may spread further threatening further populations. 

At present, half the species in the United States are listed as rare to endangered. 

It has been seen in the United Kingdom, but bats so far are resistant to it.

It seems a shame that we let myths affect our relationship with nature. Bats are like most of the world around us, uninterested in dealing with us.

We get afraid of this sight.

But we usually find this cute to nonplussing.

Bats. Yeah, they are mammals with wings. Yeah, they do sleep (mostly) upside down.  Yeah, they do have a habit of popping up in the dark, in odd places. But that's their charm. They are iconoclasts of the natural world, one of those species that just lives to break our preconceived ideas. The bat is a rock stars to the sullen teen that is the platypus.

We should not be fearful of the natural world. We should understand it. We should respect it.

But, seriously, don't touch bats, unless you are, or are with a professional. They're wild animals.

Now, some more bats being bats, and cute.

"Sorry. Couldn't hear you."

"I can haz hugs?"

nom nom nom

Dark Lord of the Salad Bar


"Fear me!"

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