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TV boffin Treadwell out to lay blood-sucking bat myth to rest

AN Australian ecology expert wants to lay to rest the ghoulish myths that bats are evil blood-suckers.

Dale Treadwell, known by children nationwide from RTE's Kazoo and Naturally Wild, visited schools around Dublin this week to teach pupils the truth about bats.

He told the Herald: "I think Irish people have a negative image of bats because they've grown up with so many old wives' tales. It's very hard to get that picture out of your mind."

However he does believe that myths and stories have their place, especially for entertaining kids.

As part of this weekend's Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin, Dale will dress up as Dracula's nemesis, Dr Van Helsing.

The show -- in the Smock Alley Theatre on Saturday morning, called Batty Habits -- will teach children the truth about native Irish bats and the connection to vampires.

"I'm probably the only one who could work ecology into Dracula," laughed Dale.

And the girls in Rathdown Junior School yesterday were spellbound by the 'bugs and beasties' he had brought with him.

They learned that things which might seem scary, slimy or prickly -- like bats, frogs and hedgehogs -- are wonderful, fascinating and harmless.

Dale said that what children learn in hands-on classes is far more valuable than what they can read in books or see on a TV documentary.

"Those are second-hand experiences, but when you've got them holding a worm, they get an interest in wildlife and in what they can find in their own back garden."

The pupils of Rathdown Junior were fascinated by his description of the bloodsucking vampire bat in America -- and relieved to hear it bites only cows.

They also got an idea of how bats navigate using echo-location through a schoolyard game, and heard recordings of the sounds bats make.

Dale's own interest in bats developed as a youngster in Australia. He worked for National Parks and Wildlife and specialised in fruit bats, rescuing them from power lines.