Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January 21, 2015 - Bats

Do you keep bat houses?  Here’s a really old one in a rather spooky-looking tree, which just adds to the folklore already surrounding bats.  It’s the old style with a small hole at the top instead of an entry at the bottom.  The bottom entry is preferred by the bats.  They like to crawl up holes made by dead pieces of bark partially hanging off trees.  If you have a bat house with slats at the bottom, the bats can inch up inside and huddle together for warmth.

Many people think bats are ugly and horrible creatures, but they’re really not so bad.  One bat can eat more than a thousand insects in just one night, and that’s very helpful to farmers and gardeners and anyone who doesn’t want to be harassed by insects.  While the chickadee is the official Maine State Bird, many people joke that it really should be the mosquito because we have many swampy wooded areas just infested with them.  If you’ve ever been eaten alive by mosquitoes, you might find that you have a new appreciation for bats.

An old bat house in a tree.

Let’s face it.  Bats are not as pretty as birds, not even close, but that’s because they’re not birds.  Bats are mammals.  They are the only mammals capable of true and sustained flight.  They don’t lay eggs; females give birth, usually to just one bat.  The birthrate is slow, but they can live to be 20 years old!  Most of them eat insects, although the larger ones eat fruit and are very important in pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds.  Yes, there is such a thing as the “vampire bat,” a bat that feeds on blood.  They are found in Mexico, Central America, and South America.  I’m kind of glad they’re not here in Maine.

Bats can carry diseases such as rabies, and because of this, it’s not a good idea to try to make a pet out of a bat.  Keep your bat houses away from your living space, and never try to pick up a bat if you find one.  The very fact that you’ve found one usually means that something is amiss because they are nocturnal beings that stay hidden.  But there are lots of animals and insects that carry diseases, although it is always the poor bat that is blamed and feared.

I feel sorry for bats because people hate them so much.  Throughout history, they’ve been associated with dark arts and bad witches and denizens of the underworld.  They’re really just warm-blooded creatures (not so unlike ourselves in terms of social nature) that just happen to be a little on the homely side.  Chances are good that you have bats living all around you but you just don’t know about it.  I like them and try to encourage their presence, albeit away from my house.  If deer, rabbits, raccoons, minks, fishers, and coyotes (to name just a few), can walk through my backyard all the time, as evidenced by their prints in the snow, surely a little bat or two can share the space as well.

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