We recently enjoyed a fascinating program about bats in Iowa conducted by Jasper County naturalist Greg Oldsen and Dr. Russ Benedict, biology professor at Central College. We learned many things about these incredible little creatures. World-wide there are about 1000 species of bats, ranging in size from tiny 1-inch long bumble bee bats to large fruit bats which have wingspans up to 3 feet. In Iowa we have 11 bat species, 9 of which occur regularly and 2 which pass through the state occasionally.
Dr. Benedict supervised setting up very fine nets called mist nests that can catch the bats because they don’t detect them with their natural sonar skills. When the bats were caught they were gently untangled from the nets so we could see them up close and observe what remarkable creatures they are. We were able to feel their very soft fur and the webs of the wings, which to me felt like very soft leather. With flashlights Dr. Benedict showed us the bone structure in the wings, which is very much like fine, long finger bones in humans. With gentle handling he was also able to show us the very small VERY sharp teeth which enables bats to eat many different insects. Certain bats eat only certain insects, such as mosquitoes, moths, or beetles. Because of their impressive teeth it is never wise to attempt handling bats because of the risk of being bitten.
Naturalist Oldsen and Dr. Benedict talked about the many myths regarding bats and why so many people fear them.
Myth #1: Bats get in people’s hair. This doesn’t happen because their sonar skills are so keen that it is very easy for them to avoid people.
Myth #2: Bats spread rabies. They are no more likely to do so than any other mammal. Less than 1 bat of 1000 carries rabies. No more than one rabies fatality in the United States is caused by a rabid bat in a year’s time, compared to 11 fatalities caused by lawnmower accidents in a year. Dr. Benedict explained that a rabid bat usually falls to the ground and dies, not attacking anyone or anything. So if you see a bat on the ground, do not touch it.
Myth #3: Bats are blind in daylight.
Myth #4: Bats can take off from the ground. In fact they cannot because their leg muscles are too weak.
If a bat gets into your house the best thing to do is open doors and windows then leave so as not to frighten it. If you catch it (protect your hands with gloves or a towel) put it outside on a tree at least 4 feet up and it will be able to take off and fly.
Bats are not like other small creatures that live short lives. They can live up to 30 years, so it’s good to remember that. If you need to remove one from your house,do it carefully so it isn’t injured.
Thanks to Dr. Benedict and naturalist Oldsen for such an informative evening! It’s great to know so much more about the little creatures we can see swooping through the night sky on a summer evening.