7 Myths About Bats, Mental Floss

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7 Myths About Bats

Though in China bats are said to bring good luck, and ancient Egyptians believed they could cure an array of diseases, our feelings about bats are often negative. Perhaps these rumors started because bats are so mysterious—with their nocturnal flying and dank, dark habitats, they’re hard to study. But the world’s only flying mammal isn’t nearly as bad as our fears make it out to be. Keep reading for seven misconceptions, as well as explanations of what really goes on in the batcave.

1. Bats are totally blind.

Though we love to talk about things being “blind as a bat,” bigger bats can see up to three times better than humans, according to Rob Mies, executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation. Bat vision varies across species, but none are actually blind. In addition to working peepers, bats also use echolocation (emitting sound to navigate)—which means they probably have a better idea of where they’re going than many of us.

2. Bats are flying rats.

Bats belong to the order Chiroptera, not Rodentia; they’re actually more closely related to primates than they are to rodents. They also don’t share behavior with rodents. For example, bats don’t chew on wood, metal, or plastic, and usually aren’t nuisances. In fact, bats eat pests, which brings us to …

3. Bats are annoying pests.

Quite the opposite! According to National Geographic, bats can eat up to a thousand insects in an evening. Their bug-eating prowess is so notable it carries economic importance. A recent study showed that bats provide “nontoxic pest-control services totaling $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year.” Bats also pollinate plants and distribute seeds, and their droppings—called guano—are used as fertilizer.

4. Bats want to drink your blood.

Only three of the roughly 1200 existing bat species are vampire bats, and none of them live in the United States or Canada. Vampire bats don’t even really drink blood—Mies says the feeding process is more like that of a mosquito. While mosquitos will take blood from humans, though, vampire bats primarily feed on cattle. Fun fact: a medication called draculin is currently being developed from bats’ saliva, which has unique anti-blood-clotting properties.

5. Bats will fly into your hair and build a nest.

An old myth claims that bats fly into hair, get stuck, and build nests. While it’s possible this rumor started to deter young women from going out at night, bats do sometimes swoop around people’s heads. The reason isn’t because they’re shopping for a new home, however: our bodies attract insects, and bats are after their next snack. So don’t worry—your spectacular updo is safe. In fact, bats don’t build nests at all: Instead, they find shelter inside existing structures. Caves, trees, walls, and ceilings are favorites, as are rafters of buildings

6. Bats always hang upside down.

Contrary to the popular image, bats don’t don’t necessarily dangle pointing downward. According to Dr. Thomas Kunz from Boston University, bats are frequently horizontal when roosting in small crevices, not vertical.

7. Bats will attack you and give you rabies.

Nope. Shari Clark, president of the Florida Bat Conservancy, says that statistically bats contract rabies much less frequently than other mammals. And if they do get rabies, it manifests differently than in raccoons or foxes. Rabies-infected bats become paralyzed and can’t fly or roost. This means that as long as you stay away from bats on the ground that are behaving weirdly, you’re pretty much in the clear. Phew.

This list was updated in 2019.

The Reason Why Dryer Sheets Are Toxic to Cats and Dogs

Pet owners quickly learn to become vigilant about seemingly innocuous things that could prove harmful to their cats and dogs. Human treats like chocolate or caffeine are notoriously bad for a pet’s stomach; walking hazards like lawn chemicals, standing water, and gum can all prompt a visit to the vet.

You might not realize another common threat is lurking in laundry baskets, where cats sometimes like to relax. According to the Spruce, dryer sheets used to reduce static cling can harm a pet’s health.

The sheets are infused with chemicals activated by the heat of a dryer. Benzyl acetate, camphor, and chloroform are often present, and all of them can present problems for pets who either come in contact with the sheets or ingest them. Symptoms can be local, like skin irritation, or systemic, including pulmonary edema and kidney issues. The tough fabric of the sheet itself also poses a problem, because it won’t break down in an animal’s digestive tract. Surgery is sometimes needed to remove blockages caused by these types of materials.

Not every pet is going to show an interest in nibbling on a dryer sheet, but it’s still a good idea to keep them stored safely away, especially if your pet hangs out in your laundry area. It’s also inadvisable to groom pets by picking up errant fur with the sheets, which is sometimes recommended online. The chemicals can be left on fur, which pets can then ingest by licking.

The same cautions hold for fabric softeners, which contain corrosive detergents that can damage mucus membranes. The best advice is to keep all chemicals out of the reach of your pets and make sure your laundry room is safe from prying paws.

Body Camera Study Reveals What Cats Do When Nobody’s Looking

Cat owners have a lot of questions about their feline companions, such as why do cats like boxes?, why are they afraid of cucumbers?, and do they understand their own names? While some of these questions have been answered by science, the matter of what cats do when their owners aren’t around has remained murky. To get to the bottom of the mystery, a pair of scientists in the UK strapped video cameras to 16 cats and monitored their behavior.

Their study, co-authored by behavioral ecologist Maren Huck and animal behaviorist Samantha Watson and published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, was meant to be an assessment of the portable video technology. As Huck told Science in an interview, the experiment also revealed some surprising data regarding cat behaviors. One big takeaway was that cats may not be as relaxed and lazy as they’re often stereotyped to be. When the cats in the study were allowed to wander freely outdoors, they were highly alert and engaged with their environment.

The study also presents evidence against the idea that cats don’t care about their owners. The videos showed that the cats, when home, tended to follow their humans around and liked to be in the same room as them. You can see the behaviors that were recorded in the video below.

Though similar experiments have been conducted on different animals in the past, there haven’t been many studies that use body cameras to observe a range of cat behaviors. This may have something to do with the nature of the subjects. When the researchers attached cameras to 21 cats, five of them either tried to shake or scratch them off. One cat began swatting her son when she saw the camera on him. For now, the secret lives of these more finicky felines remain a mystery.

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