Debunking the myths (and fears) about bats
Bats are associated with Halloween but there is nothing scary, spooky or evil about these amazing little creatures that are the subject of several totally false myths.
Fear of the dark is a very real phobia experienced to some degree by many people, especially children. As creatures of the daylight and depending so much as we do on the evidence of our eyes, it is natural for us to be out of our comfort zone when we find ourselves in pitch blackness.
Fear of the dark is heightened by being in a strange place especially out of doors on a night with no moon, no stars, no lights anywhere. What we fear is not so much the absence of light but the possible or imagined dangers that might be concealed by the darkness.
Bats are masters of nocturnal wildlife. They are the only mammals in the world that have evolved the power of true flight. The expression 'As blind as a bat' is a myth. Bats have eyes and, like us, they can see in daylight but in darkness they use echolocation, emitting sounds to give them a three-dimensional image of their surroundings.
And they do it in a spectacular way. In a forest, bats hunt with impressive accuracy flying among the tree branches in total darkness. Getting caught in your hair is another myth. Human hair holds no attraction for bats and, when in flight, they are well capable of avoiding crashing into a large 'obstacle' like a person.
Bats hibernate for the winter so if it has fed well up to now and considering the cold weather last weekend, any sensible Irish bat is likely to be asleep during Halloween rather than being out and about scaring the daylights out of trick-or-treaters. That bats embody spirits returning from the dead is, of course, another myth.
Stories of blooding-sucking bats are also myths. Some 1,300 species of bat have been described worldwide. All but three eat either insects, fruits, nectar or pollen. The remaining three species feed on blood. They all live in South America where they bite a vein of an animal like a pig as it sleeps and lap up the blood trickling from the blade-like incision.
One final myth is that bats are flying mice. They are not rodents; they are not even related to rodents. On the tree of life, they are, in fact, more closely related to us humans than to rats and mice.