Bats are not the rabid, hair-tangling vampires they are made out to be.
"For many years, fear and ignorance have led humans to kill large numbers of bats," said Nancy Allen, a faculty member in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. "In addition, bats have lost much of their habitat and suffered from the use of pesticides."
Allen helps people recognize that bats are a vital part of a healthy ecosystem. An OSU Extension booklet she wrote with her students debunks nightmarish myths and explains the vital role of bats in the environment.
In North America bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects, including bugs that can devastate crops. Fifteen species of bats live in Oregon, including the tiny Western pipistrelle, which weighs less than a quarter of an ounce.
"For their size, bats are the world's longest-lived mammals," Allen said. "Some are known to live more than 20 years in the wild."
Bats spend more than half their lives in roosts, according to Allen. In winter, they tend to choose cool places to hibernate, such as caves or rock crevices. In spring, pregnant females gather together in nursing colonies to bear their young. Males and unbred females roost in other places.
Bats spend an hour or two foraging then they rest in night roosts, which are usually close to food sources. They may hunt again before dawn, then return to a day roost.
"One way you can help bats survive is to create roosting habitat for them in your yard," Allen said. Creating habitat can be as simple as putting up a bat house, or wrapping a tree trunk with a flexible panel.
Allen's OSU Extension booklet contains plans for building bat houses and simple roosts for bats, as well as information on providing food, water and a poison-free environment for bats.
The publication, "Create Roosts for Bats in Your Yard" (EC1555), is available online at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/ec/ec1555.pdf. Or you can order a printed copy for $1.50 (plus shipping and handling) by calling 800-561-6719.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife publishes a "Batty for Bats" flyer aimed at kids that has information and pictures of all 15 Oregon bat species.
To view or download it, see the website at http://tinyurl.com/6f9pk8h.