Bats: More than Tiny City Vampires

By Marcia Anderson

Bats have a reputation for being spooky or even dangerous, but they are some of the most beneficial animals to people. They are the most misunderstood and needlessly feared of the world’s creatures. Furthermore bats do not entangle themselves in hair as widely believed and they will not encounter people by choice but only in self-defense.

Very few species of bats are vampire or blood consuming. Out of the more than 1,100 different species of bats worldwide, there are only three species of vampire bats and none live in the United States. Vampire bats only live in tropical climates and typically feed on cattle, poultry or other livestock. Most North American bats have small teeth for eating insects and do not gnaw through wood or other building materials like rodents.

All of the NJ and NY bats are insectivores and they need to eat and drink every night. Their food requirements are well served by open grasslands and parks, where insects are abundant. They feed on a huge variety of night flying insects, including mosquitoes. A single little brown bat can eat 3,000 mosquito-sized insects per night.

Bats are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems and economies, yet their populations are declining worldwide due to loss of roost trees, disturbance of dens, and outright persecution by man. Enjoy your bananas, mangos and guavas – and thank the bats that help to bring these fruits to your table. Some bats are primary pollinators for fruits and other produce and help to disperse seeds of plants vital for natural restoration of forests.

During the day they prefer to roost in tight crevices such as cracks in rocks, under exfoliating tree bark and in awnings of buildings. These locations provide protection from predators and stable temperatures. They also prefer roosting near open bodies of water. Bats can enter city buildings, especially near parks, through openings as small as one-half inch in diameter. Bats may roost in attics, soffits, louvers, chimneys and porches; under siding, eaves, roof tiles or shingles; and behind shutters. In stadiums and parking garages, bats sometimes roost in expansion joints between concrete beams.

Don’t panic. Bats are rarely aggressive, even if they’re being chased, but they may bite in self-defense if handled. As with any wild animal, bats should never be touched with bare hands.

A solitary bat – often a lost youngster – will occasionally fly into a building through an open door or window. When this happens, the bat’s primary goal is to escape safely back outside. If bats inhabit your home or an undesirable location, it is important to use proper eviction methods to remove them. It is illegal for anyone, including animal control officers and exterminators, to kill bats. Terminal traps and poisonous bait traps should never be used. If evicting bats from a building, it is important to provide a near-by shelter, such as a bat house, for the bats to inhabit. All evictions or exclusions should take place prior to mid-May or after mid-September.

About the author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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