Saturday, April 18, 2015

Happy Belated Bat Appreciation Day!

B is for bats


B is for bats by happilyintended featuring a silk shawl

This quickly became a very long post, and I still have lots more to say. So this is Part 1, or Why You Shouldn't Fear Bats. Stay tuned for Part 2, or Why You Should Love (or At Least Tolerate) Bats.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a rather large soft spot in my heart for bats. This past Friday was Bat Appreciation Day, but I didn't get to do much to commemorate it. We are in the midst of test prep at school, so I couldn't take a day to talk about bats. (Don't worry--we do take a "bat break" to learn about them for Halloween!) As soon as school was over, I jumped in the car to drive to Virginia Beach to do an AP bio Saturday Study Session. So yeah, not a lot of time to acknowledge bats. But since I can do absolutely whatever I want with my blog, here are some bat facts:

Many people think that bats are ugly or scary or gross. I love their little faces, even the really wrinkly ones, but you think they're cute or you don't, and that's fine with me either way. If nocturnal animals in general freak you out, that's ok, too. I get that. 

Gratuitous bats-in-blankies picture! Adorableness via reddit.com


But bats are not gross. For one thing, they groom themselves pretty obsessively, much like cats. And then there's the whole disease thing...

It is true that they are vectors for various diseases, but that's true for basically every living thing. Dogs and cats are both vectors for disease, so pet owners have to be aware of how to prevent their animals from either contracting diseases and/or spreading them. This is why you keep vaccines up to date, why pregnant ladies don't scoop litter boxes, etc. And of course, the most common disease vector for humans is... other humans, so eradicating certain animals won't exactly eradicate disease. While, yes, the source of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa is believed to be a bat, it was a bat that was consumed as part of the bush meat trade. It wasn't the result of a bat attack. Generally speaking, bats are curious creatures, but they aren't interested in messing with people. 

Like Ebola, most of the diseases that bats carry can only be transmitted through contact with their bodily fluids or wastes. Particularly for people in the United States, this makes avoidance pretty easy: don't eat a bat and don't eat unclean food. Also, don't touch a live bat. If a bat gets in your house or your place of work, it's probably really confused and scared. A giant possible-predator trying to grab it is probably going to make the bat go into self-defense mode and bite you. Call someone trained to remove bats. 

The odds that any bat with which you come into contact is carrying a disease are really very low. However, if you are bitten by a bat, you will need rabies shots. Rabies shots suck. This is why you call professionals to remove bats. Rabies shots are painful and expensive, but if the bat that bit you is caught, the situation is much worse for the bat. By law, a bat that has bitten someone must be tested for rabies. The only way to test the bat for rabies is to kill it and then perform a necropsy (an autopsy for non-humans). Since the odds that the bat is rabid are very low, this is often a needless loss of life. And, by the way, a clean bill of health for the now-dead bat doesn't get you out of rabies shots. In the event that you have come into contact with rabies, the vaccine will only help you if you get it immediately; you can't wait several days for the bat's lab work to come back. 

Bottom line: Do bats a solid this April, and leave them alone. They don't want to get in your hair, they don't want to suck your blood. They just want to live their little batty lives.

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