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.
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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.
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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.
Various bats of the order Chiroptera in a circa-1800 engraving by J. Shury
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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.