CORVALLIS — With a swish of his cape, Count Dracula ruined the reputation of bats forevermore. Maybe.
In the 120 years since “Dracula” came on the scene and spooked us into believing bats are bad, we’re beginning to get a grasp on the truth: Their voracious appetite for insects turns them into a living pesticide that saves farmers billions of dollars a year and helps rid our backyards of insects such as mosquitoes, moths, grasshoppers, flies and beetles. Some species are critically important pollinators for crops ranging from bananas to agave.
Still, there is plenty of false fodder contributing to their scary reputation. Bats aren’t flying mice. In fact, according to Bat Conservation International, they are more closely related to humans. Bats don’t get tangled in your hair. Bats aren’t blind. Of the three species out of 1,300 that feed on blood, only one targets mammals. All of these are limited to Latin America. (If you really want to know, they don’t suck blood, they lap it “like kittens with milk,” BCI says on its website.)
Most importantly, bats are no more likely to get rabies than other mammals. However, in any given year, some bats likely do contract and develop the disease, said Dana Sanchez, wildlife specialist with Oregon State University Extension Service.
“People should report and avoid any contact with a bat that acts oddly, such as flying during the day, approaching people or crawling on the ground,” she said. “It could be affected by rabies or another disease, such as white-nose syndrome.”
Report sightings to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife or your local health department, where there are professionals to advise you on the steps to take.
Bats need little encouragement to hang around. They roost in dead trees, caves and other dark, quiet places, including bat houses. You’ll see them at dusk and can recognize them by their zigzagging flight pattern.
To attract them to your garden and to help with their conservation, construct a bat house or provide other roosting places, said Dan Crannell, an OSU Extension Master Gardener.
“One of the biggest problems that bats are facing right now is loss of habitat,” he said. “We can try to mitigate that with bat houses.”
Other factors threatening bats, Sanchez added, are wind energy development, white-nose syndrome and broad changes to water and foraging resources due to climate change.
Bat boxes resemble large bird houses but are open on the bottom and partitioned into several narrow spaces. For patterns, refer to Extension’s publication called “The Wildlife Garden: Create Roosts for Bats in Your Yard.”
Of the 15 species of bats in Oregon, the most common are the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), long-legged bat (Macrophyllum macrophyllum) and big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus). The Western pipistrelle (Pipistrellus hesperus), the smallest bat in the U.S., weighs in at one-tenth of an ounce and can be found in Eastern Oregon.
Learn more about bats in Extension’s “Bats in the Garden” and “The Wildlife Garden: Little Brown Bats.”