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Boo! Bats getting a bad rap

| October 5, 2021 1:00 AM

When we lived in a Post Falls apartment complex in the 1990s, we had a rather unusual neighbor (more like a squatter, as I doubt he paid rent). He liked to hang around the stairwell, and I do mean literally.

Upside down.

Outside of zoos I’d never seen a bat, so I admit at first I was nervous, ushering my young kids quickly downstairs and hoping we wouldn’t wake the little pale-colored creature, who almost blended in with the ceiling.

That was before I learned how useful bats are, and harmless. Rabid bats are rare — less than 1 percent of bat populations, which is a lower rate than other mammals.

October is Bat Appreciation Month. What’s there to appreciate about these flying rodents?

First, they aren’t rodents at all. They’re mammals of the chiroptera family, and more related ancestrally to a horse than a rat. More importantly, they’re useful to humans, helping pollinate fruit and eating insects.

Here are 10 more batty facts from The Nature Conservancy and Idaho Fish and Game:

  1. Bats can live more than 30 years and fly up to 60 mph. One, the Mexican free-tailed bat, reached 100 mph, possibly the fastest mammal on Earth according to University of Tennessee researchers.

  2. Bats can find their food in total darkness. Nocturnal bats locate insects to eat with echolocation, emitting high-pitched sounds and listening to the echoes.

  3. They can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour, consuming their body weight in insects nightly and helping keep bug populations in check.

  4. Some bats hibernate in caves in winter, but they can also survive freezing temperatures, even after being encased in ice.

  5. Baby bats are called pups. Most have only one pup a year. Bat moms can recognize their own babies in a crowd of them by their unique voices and scents. Having only one pup a year makes bats extremely vulnerable to extinction.

  6. Bat droppings, or guano, are rich fertilizers. Guano was apparently once Texas's largest mineral export.

  7. The world’s largest bat is the South Pacific’s "flying fox" with a wingspan up to 6 feet. The world’s smallest is Thailand’s bumble bee bat, smaller than a thumbnail and weighing less than a penny.

  8. Pallid bats eat scorpions, immune to their stings. Good riddance.

  9. The Bracken Bat Cave in Texas is home to the world’s largest bat colony, with millions of Mexican free-tailed bats roosting there between March and October. Harriman State Park is Idaho’s “battiest,” but they’ve also been known to hang out in abandoned mines. And, it seems, Post Falls stairwells.

  10. They need our help: More than half of American bat species are in severe decline or endangered.

The U.S. hosts about 40 of the world’s 1,100 bat species. Of 14 in Idaho, those common up north include brown bats, silver-haired, Yuma and hoary bats. If you see one, best leave it in peace.

He’s just snoozing.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who’s come to appreciate bats. Email Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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