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Blood-Sucking, Disease-Spreading and Blind? Myth-Busting Bats

Blood-Sucking, Disease-Spreading and Blind? Myth-Busting Bats
Straw-colored Fruit Bat | By Tonja Candelaria

Animals have certainly been inspiration for folklore, tales and fears. With their unique adaptations, behaviors, and physical features, it’s not surprising they conjure mystery and intrigue. Yet these adaptive qualities serve very important purposes.

One often-misunderstood animal is the bat. The bat is commonly thought of as a blood-sucking, disease-spreading beast. But this Dracula-like picture couldn’t be further from the truth. Bats are mammals – the only mammals capable of true flight. There are 27 bat species in California and none of them suck blood.

Another myth is that bats are blind; most actually see well. Insectivorous (insect-eating) bats use echolocation. This provides an accurate sense of their surroundings as they emit sound waves from their mouths or nose that bounce off objects and then return back as echoes. From these echoes, bats determine how large something is, its distance, how fast it’s traveling and even the item’s texture in less than a second.  A single little brown bat can eat up to 500 mosquitoes in an hour – nature’s pest control!

Bats may seem creepy as some seek shelter in caves, but many species also commonly roost in tree cavities or among rock and building crevices. Like all animals, shelter is important to safely raise their young and to provide protection from predators during rest. Unfortunately, there are many threats to bats, including habitat loss, diseases and even deaths due to human fear.

The Sacramento Zoo is home to a colony of straw-colored fruit bats. These are the second largest bats in Africa, ranging from Sub-Saharan Africa to South Africa and on several islands off the African coast. In the wild, colonies can range from thousands, up to a million individuals. straw-colored fruit bats can consume up to two times their body weight, eating fruit, seeds, nectar, flowers, buds and young leaves. Fruit bats are a significant source of seed dispersal, which helps forests regenerate. The zoo’s colony enjoys bananas, apples, and melons. Like all fruit bats, they do not use echolocation.

You can see the straw-colored fruit bats and learn other myth-busting animal facts at the All New Daytime Boo at the Zoo this Saturday, Oct. 29 and Sunday, Oct. 30 from 11 am to 5 pm. For more information on this rain or shine event, please visit saczoo.org.

Straw-colored Fruit Bats Eating. Photo by Tonja Candelaria
Straw-colored Fruit Bats Eating | By Tonja Candelaria
Sacramento Zoo Straw-colored Fruit Bat Colony, by Mike Owyang
Sacramento Zoo Straw-colored Fruit Bat Colony | By Mike Owyang
Bat-inspired Dracula Pose at Boo at the Zoo, by April Johnson
Bat-inspired Dracula Pose at Boo at the Zoo | By April Johnson

This article can also be found at the Sacramento Zoo’s blog

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About the author

April Mae Saenz Johnson

April Mae Saenz Johnson

On a daily basis, I see animals from all over the world in one special place: the Sacramento Zoo. I am happy to share inside info, fun facts and photographs of the zoo's animals, staff and events.

In my personal life, I enjoy the sleepy, gross and amazing moments of motherhood, time with my husband and our labradoodle, with a bit of traveling, yoga and volunteering on the Leadership Team for Social Media Club Sacramento.

I am embarking on a new adventure as co-founder of Aging UP, a nonprofit empowering youth with experience in foster care to successfully transition into adulthood.

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