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Bats battle maligned mammal moniker

bat

Admirers want to give them a flying chance

April 9, 1997
Web posted at: 11:50 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jim Hill

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Bats in the belfry. Blind as a bat. Going batty. With humans tossing around those pejorative sobriquets, it's no wonder the soft, furry mammals are getting, well, a bat rap.

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Indeed, many of the 40 bat varieties in the United States are believed to be but a step away from endangerment. And in a few quarters, these much-misunderstood nocturnal fliers are gaining a greater degree of appreciation.

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For instance, the California Transportation Department now tries to protect bat habitats when bridges are repaired. More than 700 bridges in the state double as bat boudoirs.

"Biologists tell us that the expansion joints of our bridges resemble their natural habitats in a lot of ways," says Pat Reid of the transportation agency. "And so this has just worked out really well for them."

Meanwhile, in Texas, the denizens of Austin have embraced bats big time. Millions live under a city bridge and, as they leave for work each evening to gobble down tons of pesky insects, tourists come out to watch the show.

swarm of bats

And when the U.S. Forest Service found that bats were living in abandoned mine shafts in California's Angeles National Forest, the rangers installed special iron gates to preserve their new habitat.

"We tried to take measures that will mitigate the public safety hazard by making it inaccessible to the public, [but] at the same time providing continued access for the bats," says Shawna Bautista of the Forest Service.

Despite these forays into bat-people detente, bogus bat stories persist.

One such myth is that they suck blood. Well, only the tiny vampire bat of South America behaves in such a biting manner, and even that sucking cousin doesn't bother humans. Another tale is that bats carry rabies. True, but no more than any other mammal.

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Actually, what bats do most is eat bugs -- many times their own weight each night.

"They're kind of magical and beneficial, and they're really underdogs," says Diana Simons, a bat expert. "People don't know a lot about them."

After centuries of bad press, bats have a long way to go in getting the respect they deserve. But at least there are now a growing number of projects to help them increase their batting average.

 
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