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Why we should invite bats to dinner

Everyone knows that Bela Lugosi as Dracula was a creepy, blood-sucking bat in human form, correct?

This was one of many bat myths and stereotypes debunked at a recent presentation by John Jackson, our local expert on all things squirmy and owner of Bugs R Us.

The Gold Hill library was filled to capacity for the event with children and the young at heart. All of us, with the exception of a few jet-propelled types, sat eager to see and learn about the helpful mammal that does not seek out your hair in which to nest. Unless you’re a member of the B52s. Just kidding.

Despite tradition, Halloween isn’t the best time to celebrate bats, because the 15 varieties in Oregon have either migrated or begun hibernating by now. But movies like the "The Devil Bat," with our pasty friend Lugosi, help perpetuate images of blood-sucking minions winging their way to wreak havoc and leave tell-tale hickies.

This is an image Mr. Jackson works to dispel. In fact, without all those little bug-munchers, we would all be wrapped up like mummies, living life indoors. The quantity of bug meat these pickle-sized fliers consume is phenomenal — like 1,000 insects per hour per bat. Cheer for these rock stars diving around the stadium lights at your next football game.

All of Oregon’s bat residents subsist on night-flying bugs, including mosquitoes, beetles, moths and bar-hoppers. I may have that last one wrong. The only vampire bats are decidedly nonthreatening at 4½ inches long and live only in Central America. The livestock (not humans) from which they drink a piddling few drops do not then become the moseying undead with impressive incisors, searching for victims, though I think it could make an interesting concept for reality TV. Dracowla.

Another myth-busting factoid is that all bats carry rabies. Right? Wrong. But haven’t we all been told not to pick up a sick bat? While that’s still good advice, bats are not carriers so much as victims. Their arch enemies — raccoons — are largely to blame. In fact, Jackson said that 85 percent of raccoons are carriers of rabies, though they may never exhibit the symptoms. When they bite another uninoculated mammal, the disease spreads to that animal. A bat is so small that it takes little time to reach the poor guy’s brain, doing it in within 24 hours. I had no idea.

The largest bat species is the Flying Fox, with a body length of two feet and wingspan of five to six feet. Now, I would don my helmet and hit the dirt if I saw anything that size flying toward me, even though it may only be after my fruit salad. They live on tropical islands from Madagascar to Australia and Indonesia.

So, bats are our friends and, like honeybees, should be encouraged to move in. One way to make them feel welcome is to build a bat house. A 2-by-2-foot house may accommodate up to 400 bats. This structure needs to sit at least 15 feet off the ground to be out of reach of rascally raccoons and house cats. If you’re the handy type, plans are available through Jackson or online. The best option for a non-carpenter type like myself is to visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office at 1495 E. Gregory Road in Central Point, where they offer free bat houses to the public.

Meanwhile, if you’ve never seen the movie, "The Devil Bat," you’ve missed an imaginative treat. Bela Lugosi is a disgruntled inventor who feels he’s been cheated by former partners. So what does a disgruntled inventor do? He invents an after-shave cologne that attracts his very large, trained and fake-looking bat to attack anyone who wears the cologne, naturally. I kid you not.

Just watching the stiffly gliding creature “attack” a full grown man, who becomes a quaking blob of helpless putty against its advances, is worth an evening of popped corn and beverage of choice.

— Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com.