Local Hero – Getting A Bad Rap

March 23, 2012 by Tails Magazine in April 2012 with 0 Comments

BatsThomas Barnes dispels myths about bats

By Brendan Quealy

Kentucky has more than a few claims to fame. From the Kentucky Derby—the most popular horse race in the world—to Kentucky bourbon and, lest we forget, the Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Because April is National Bat Appreciation Month, we must to recognize the other kind of bat—the bats of the winged variety.

Thomas Barnes of Kentucky’s Division of Forestry has been working for decades to ensure that bats are kept safe and that people are aware of the facts about these creatures. “Few animals are as misunderstood as bats,” explains Barnes. “They are the subject of myths, misunderstandings, and folklore that make them among the most feared animals in Kentucky.Bats are relentlessly persecuted wherever they are found. The presence of a bat in a house probably causes more alarm than does any other wildlife species.”

Barnes claims these unnecessary fears are more dangerous than the bats themselves. He’s heard of people who have broken limbs trying to get away from a bat or have almost drowned falling off boats and docks avoiding a swooping bat—all because of what popular culture has led them to believe. “Most bats are not rabid,” explains Barnes. “They are not filthy and will not infest your home with parasites. They are not aggressive and will not attack you or your pets. And Kentucky bats do not feed on blood.”

Barnes is referring to the vampire bat, which does sustain itself on the blood of other animals, but only lives in climates like Latin America. “Like all wildlife, bats have their place in the natural world and they should not be indiscriminately killed because of unwarranted fears,” notes Barnes. In fact, it is against Kentucky law to kill a bat unless it is determined the bat is destroying or damaging property. Barnes recommends using non-lethal and humane methods to capture and control a bat if one makes it into your house. “Insect bombs and commercial fumigations are against the law, and home remedies such as mothballs and glue boards are not recommended,” explains Barnes. “The only permanent solution is to ‘bat-proof’ your house by closing up any openings that a bat can fit though.”

Barnes says the common brown bat can squeeze through a hole as small as 3/8 of an inch wide. Although covering every hole may seem like a lot of work, Barnes says it will save you the hassle in the future if you have recurring bat problems. He also suggests building a bat house to put in your backyard to lure the bats there instead of your house.

While some may not be thrilled with the idea of creating a bat dwelling near their home, Barnes reminds people that these flying mammals provide a number of benefits to humans. “Bats are interesting and useful animals,” shares Barnes. “People often fail to realize that—especially their ability to consume large amounts of insects.”

Barnes points out that a single brown bat (the most common bat in Kentucky and the U.S.) can eat upwards of 600 mosquitoes in an hour. That is why you often see bats diving in and out of the light of a streetlamp that has attracted hordes of insects. “Many people report a noticeable change in insects around their property when bats are present,” says Barnes. “They are the only major predator of night-flying insects.” Barnes hopes people begin to see bats in a new light, and encourages people to learn more and spread the word about these useful animals.

For more information please visit Forestry.ky.gov.

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