Around this time of year, bats get a bad rap. With those
admittedly spooky silhouettes appearing next to ghosts and
monsters, they can get lumped in with the scary stuff of the
season. But we spoke to Scott Heinrichs, a bat conservationist and
founder and director of the Flying Fox Conservation Fund, to get
the real scoop on the much-maligned flying creatures.
Why should people like bats?
Because they're probably the most beneficial mammal we
have on the planet. Fruit bats pollinate over 400 plants and trees
in the tropics. A lot of these plants produce things that humans
utilize: papaya, coffee, mango, a lot of stuff. They're also the
main pollinators of a lot of cactus plants and desert plants, so
without them we wouldn't have agave nectar or tequila.
How many species of bats are there and how many
live in Illinois?
There are over 1,250. What's cool about bats is that
researchers and conservationists are always finding new species.
There are 12 different species in Illinois. All the bats in
Illinois are insect-eating bats, good for humans. One big brown bat
can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour.
Where are the best spots to see
In Illinois, there's Volo Bog. And there's a little gazebo
in the Lake County Forest Preserve, Shelter E, with over 500 little
brown bats that took up residency there about 10 years ago. Or you
can go to your neighborhood park; at dusk, you see them flying
around the light eating mosquitoes. Or Lincoln Park Zoo and
What's the most common question you get asked
A lot of people ask: why do bats hang upside down? It's
easier for them to take off and fly. Birds have hollow bones and
are very light; bats are very heavy. They don't have the muscle or
skeleton to stand. Their wings are actually their hands: elongated
fingers with thin skin membrane over it. A lot of people also ask
me if they carry diseases, but less than 1 percent of bats carry
What are some misconceptions about
A lot of people say bats are blind; that's not true
at all. If you look at some of the micro-bats, they have very small
eyes. But the flying foxes that we mainly work with have perfect
eyesight. They use their eyesight to find food.
Why are people often scared of
When most people see bats, it's at night and they just see
a dark, shadowy thing fluttering around near them. And they buy
into all the vampire stories. There are only three species of bats
that feed on blood, and they're all in Central and South
If you come into contact with a bat, what should
The best advice I can give someone if they find a bat is
to leave it alone and call an animal control person. If you find it
on the ground or injured, most likely it will be sick.
Anything that you really want us to
Try to learn about bats. They're really fascinating
creatures. They're beneficial. They're one of the most gentle
creatures on the planet. If you leave them alone, they'll leave you
alone. They need to be understood and protected.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.
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