Have you noticed that decorations and kids' drawings at this time of year always seem to include bats? Swooping, scary bats.
But are these night-loving critters -- the only mammals that can truly fly -- something to be scared of? Well, maybe if you're an insect because then you'd be a favorite munchy for most bats.
One hungry bat can gobble more than 1,000 bugs in an hour. Bats help farmers by eating insects that can destroy vegetable and fruit crops. Some people mistakenly say that bats like to get in your hair. Actually, any bat flying toward you on a summer night is only interested in snacking on the mosquitoes or moths hovering around your head.
"Bats are cute, clean and not at all interested in tangling with humans," says Leslie Sturges, founder of Save Lucy, a Virginia organization that educates kids about bats and helps return injured and orphaned bats to the wild.
Bat wings are very different from bird wings. They consist of arms, elbows and very long finger bones connected by two layers of thin skin. Bat wings can open, close or twist around, just like your hands. Bat thumbs are separate little claws that help with climbing.
Of more than 1,000 bat species in the world, about 10 live in the mid-Atlantic area. Some are year-round cave dwellers; some head to caves only to hibernate during the winter. Some live in trees, then migrate to warmer areas this time of year; some winter in tree hollows, piles of leaves or stacks of wood.
You've probably heard the phrase "blind as a bat." Well, bats aren't blind, but many rely more on their hearing than their sight to navigate and find food at night. "Echolocation" is an amazing process in which a bat shouts into the night at a sound frequency that humans can't hear. That sound bounces off an object and echoes back to the bat's ears. Bats can then tell how far away the object is, whether it's moving and if it might be a tasty morsel worth pursuing.
Want to learn more? Check out www.savelucythebat.org.science