SOCIAL CIRCLE — Although recent headlines may help perpetuate fear of bats, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources wants to remind those who are unfamiliar with the creatures that bats are an important part of nature.
Stories of bats gathering in buildings can fuel superstition and negative myths about bats. Some people panic at the thought of a bat. Others know bats are for the most part harmless and fascinating.
"Though some still fear bats, many people are realizing the benefits of these species greatly outweigh any threats," said Trina Morris, a wildlife biologist with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. "The risk of contracting rabies from a bat is very small. However, bats have a very positive impact on our environment."
Small insectivorous bats, like those found in Georgia, can eat more than 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in an hour.
Georgia is home to 16 bat species, all of which seek a sheltered roost during the day and emerge at night to eat flying insects such as moths, mosquitoes and beetles. Some species depend upon suitable caves for roosting. Others, such as big brown bats and evening bats, are more adaptable and use hollow trees and buildings. Red bats and Seminole bats conceal themselves in foliage. All Georgia bats use echolocation, a biological sonar system, to find food and avoid obstacles while flying rapidly in the darkness.
Water pollution has affected many waterways valuable to bats because of the aquatic insects the waterways produce. Widespread use of insecticides has further contaminated and reduced food supplies.
Recently, bats have also been affected by white-nose syndrome, a mysterious affliction that has caused mass die-offs of cave bats in the northeastern U.S. The deadly condition, named for the white fungal growth found on the muzzles of many of the dead bats, has not been documented in Georgia.