(WKBN) — October is Bat Appreciation Month, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is letting residents know why they should go “batty” for bats.

What is Bat Appreciation Month?

While it is easy to imagine bats as the symbol of Halloween, fewer know of the real-world benefits many species of bat offer to the ecosystem, and, by extension, humans. According to Bat Conservation International, bats provide the ecosystem with vital pest insect management, as well as plant pollination and seed dispersal.

Today, bats are under threat from widespread habitat destruction, accelerated climate change, invasive species and other stresses, Bat Conservation states. Without conservation efforts, their populations will continue to fall, driving many species to extinction. With the extinction of the species would come an imbalance as the insects the bats prey on would see a boom in population without the bats to keep them in check.

What types of bats are in Ohio?

According to ODNR, there are two types of bats across Ohio: the big brown bat and the silver-haired bat.

The big brown bat has long and silky fur on its body, which helps differentiate it from other bats. Its ears and wing membranes are dark brown to black, and they have relatively large heads with shorter rounded ears.

Big brown bat
Big brown bat. Adobe Stock image

Big brown bats typically eat agricultural pests, like June and cucumber beetles, and stinkbugs. They also eat ants, stoneflies, mayflies, lacewings and moths. A small colony of 25 bats can eat a pound of insects every night, ODNR reports.

The silver-haired bat is a migratory tree bat and is one of the slowest-flying bats in the state. It can be identified by the frosted appearance of its white-tipped black hairs.

Silver-haired bat
Silver-haired bat. Adobe Stock image

Silver-haired bats eat a variety of insects, including moths, true bugs, ground beetles, flies and termites.

Are bats dangerous to human health?

We have all heard the rumors of the dangers of bats, but which of those rumors are true?

In general, bats prefer to keep their distance from humans and do not pose a major threat. However, human-bat interactions do occur, whether it is from a bat accidentally flying into a home, or even moving into your attic. In those cases, it is better for humans to keep their distance and leave the bat extraction to a professional.

Over the last decade, increased surveillance and improved techniques for disease detection have implicated bats as likely reservoirs and vectors for a growing list of pathogens that can affect humans and domestic animals, Bat Conservation International reports. These include Marburg, Nipah, Hendra, SARS-like coronaviruses, flu virus, a panoply of lyssa viruses including rabies, and most notably, Ebola.

Another possibility of illness from human-bat interaction is Histoplasmosis. Histoplasmosis is a respiratory disease caused by a fungus that grows in soil enriched by animal droppings, including those from bats. Ninety percent of all reported cases in humans come from the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys and adjacent areas where warm, humid conditions favor fungal growth. To be safe, avoid breathing dust in areas where there are animal droppings; if you must clean an area of bat or bird droppings, wear a respirator that can guard against particles as small as two microns.

What about rabies? Bats, like most mammals, can contract the rabies virus, but the vast majority never do. When bats do get rabies, they eventually die from the disease and do not “carry” the virus indefinitely without themselves getting sick. If you are bitten by a bat that you suspect to have rabies, seek medical attention immediately.

What should I do if there is a bat in my house?

If you’ve found a single bat or several roosting bats, one option is to call a specially trained bat rehabilitator or bat rescuer. Bat World Sanctuary provides a nationwide list of wildlife rehabilitators, biologists, veterinarians, conservationists and educators who have volunteered to help rescue and remove bats.

If a rehabilitator is not immediately available, Bat World Sanctuary recommends the following:

  • First and foremost: Do not handle a bat with your bare hands
  • Line a box with an old t-shirt so the bat has a surface to hang upside-down. Make sure a top is secured to the box as some bats can squeeze through a crack as thin as 1/2″
  • Put a small amount of water in a small, shallow container like a vitamin or baby food jar lid. Do not provide any type of food whatsoever – to do so will cause organ failure in critically dehydrated bats
  • Until help is located, keep the box in a room where the bat won’t get too warm or too cold and keep the bat away from children and pets