Recently, Snohomish County released an article on bats and rabies. This is a good idea because we should do everything we can to prevent...

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Recently, Snohomish County released an article on bats and rabies. This is a good idea because we should do everything we can to prevent the spread of rabies, and bats are the No.1 carrier in Washington state. But to be fair, bats are not rabies-infested fiends. The Washington State Department of Health estimates that probably less than 1 percent of the native wild bat population has rabies. Bats provide important services such as eliminating mosquitoes and teaching us how to live longer.

More than 15 species of bats live in Washington. Those most often seen are the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), Yuma myotis (Myotis yumanensis), California myotis (Myotis californicus), big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) and pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus).

Washington bats eat huge quantities of night-flying insects, including moths, mosquitoes, termites and flies. A single little brown bat, our most common species, can devour more than 600 mosquitoes in a single hour, and half their body weight a night (the equivalent of a human eating 30 pizzas!).

During feedings, a bat can digest several meals a night and go back for more, clearing insects from one space then moving on to the next in several rounds of feeding, bellying up to the table for seconds, thirds and fourths.

Bats are exceptionally long-lived for their size. Little brown bats are documented as living up to 34 years in the wild. Studies of little browns indicate they are particularly resistant to oxidative damage to organs and tissue, and they might have “stress-resistant” DNA.

Long hibernation (about October through April) by bats in general in sites highly buffered from the outside environment may aid in such exceptional longevity. This longevity and the fact that bats typically bear only one offspring at a time, points to another thing — bats are more closely related to humans than they are to mice or other rodents.

Be kind to bats. Build them a bat house (see www.wdfw.wa.gov) and you may never have to listen to a bug zapper again.

Patricia Thompson is a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She can be reached at http://wdfw.wa.gov.