Bats get a tough time of it when it comes to public opinion, and when it comes to portrayal in the media too. Even in the Batman films of the early 21st Century, swarms of bats are used more than once to project the sense of fear and dread. Young Bruce Wayne falling down the well for instance.
In pop culture spanning centuries, they have been portrayed as the animal that vampires turn into to take flight, as sinister creatures that dwell in the dark or blood sucking demons. As filthy creatures that spread disease. But are bats dangerous really, or is this all myth? Or, is the truth somewhere in-between?
Lets explore just how dangerous bats really are, and if they are deserving of the fear and mistrust so many people have towards them.
Are Bats Dangerous To Other Animals?
Most bats are not dangerous to other animals by nature. Though there are some carnivorous and insectivorous bats that eat some animals and insects.
The Spectral Bat (False Vampire Bat) for example, which is one of the largest bats, are known to eat small rodents and other bats, as well as some birds including doves and cuckoos. There are also some bats, for example Myotis vivesi, that eat fish. Then there are a few bats that even feed on the blood of mammals.
However, other than prey species for the select bats that are meat or blood eaters, they are rarely dangerous to other animals. At least on purpose.
There are a few ways in which bats can unwittingly, potentially harm other creatures. One way is if a bat has rabies. If a bat has rabies, it can transmit the virus to other animals through its saliva. Rabid bats may also attack other animals and humans. While this does happen, it is important to remember that less than 1% of the bat population contracts rabies, which is less than the rate present in other animals such as dogs and cats. So the risk while real, is low.
Generally bats will not become aggressive unless provoked. But if an animal is brave enough to encourage a reaction, a bite or scratch may prove to be a costly mistake. Bats can carry a host of other diseases that are very dangerous to mammals. If left alone they pose little threat.
Are Bats Dangerous To Humans?
Bats are not dangerous to humans in the sense that they will go out of their way to attack people. However, there are some similar risks to humans that there are mentioned above for other animals, associated with bats. Particularly in the form of viruses and diseases that bats can carry. If a person is bitten or scratched by a bat, they should seek medical attention immediately.
The main risk to humans from bats, is when we try to handle them. When startled, bats will respond and this can be dangerous. Hoary Bats and Big Brown Bats for example, have large teeth that can puncture the skin if they are not handled properly. If this happens medical treatment should be sought quickly.
Bats spotted during the daytime should be avoided. If they are out during the day, they are generally in distress or ill, and may act in a defensive manor. Best to keep clear or contact a professional if they are in a place where risk likely.
One other danger that bats do pose to humans, is through bushmeat. In some countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, bushmeat is an important food source and income stream. Bats are often hunted, sold and eaten as bushmeat but this carries a lot of risk. It is from consuming and trading bushmeat that many emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) have become a major threat to global public health. Outbreaks of Ebola, HIV, and SARS have all been linked to the bushmeat trade, and commonly from bats.
Are All Bats Dangerous?
Most bats are not considered to be dangerous to humans, and indeed most bats do not carry diseases. However, there are some that do, and it’s not always easy to tell if a bat is carrying a disease or not. There are a few species that pose more of a threat than others.
The Vampire Bats that are known to feed on blood, have been linked to the spread of rabies. They are responsible for many livestock deaths and a few human deaths every year. Thankfully, the three species of Vampire Bats live remotely in the Rainforests of South America.
Dangerous Diseases Bats Carry
Bats can carry a number of dangerous diseases, including rabies, histoplasmosis, and Ebola. These diseases can be fatal if not treated properly. They can also carry the SARS Coronavirus.
Histoplasmosis is a serious lung infection that can be fatal if not treated. Symptoms of histoplasmosis include fever, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
The Giant Fruit Bat and Egyptian Fruit Bat are also amongst the most dangerous, known to carry Ebola, a deadly virus.
The Big Brown Bat is known to carry a live Alpha Coronavirus, and is a particular risk because they tend to inhabit areas near human populations.
Some Flying Foxes are known to carry Hendra virus or the Menangle virus which are particularly bad for horses and pigs respectively.
It is important to remember that all bats should be treated with caution. Even those species that do not typically pose a threat can carry diseases that can be harmful to humans. If you are unsure whether or not a bat is dangerous, it is best to leave them alone or if needs be, contact a professional for assistance.
How Are Bats Able To Carry Diseases Unharmed?
In short, they have exceptional immune systems. The antiviral arsenal that bats have helps to control the amount of virus they are exposed to. For instance, certain bats have the interferon pathway, a permanently activated antiviral immune response. Such a hyperactive immune response would lead to detrimental inflammation in the majority of other animals. However, bats have evolved anti-inflammatory characteristics that shield them from such danger.
Will A Bat Bite A Human That Is Sleeping?
If you wake in the morning or through the night and notice a bat in your room, you should probably assume you have been bitten and seek advice. While some people note a needle prick or stinging sensation, much like a bee sting, when bitten by a bat, a bite may leave no evidence of lesion or puncture. It is much safer to assume a bite may have happened than to write it off.
Has Anyone Ever Died Because Of A Bat?
A small number of people most years die because of bat bites. In 2021, there were 5 deaths it the USA alone from rabies transmitted from a bat. In all cases, the victims had failed to get the PEP vaccine after exposure to the disease. The PEP vaccine is the only method we have to survive rabies. It is important that treatment begins quickly after exposure which is why it is so important to seek medical advice after a bite.
Are Groups Of Bats Dangerous?
Groups of bats can be dangerous, especially if they are feeding. When bats are feeding, they may be aggressive, or they may mistake people or animals for food. However, such instances are very rare, they will usually avoid humans. They have a great sense of smell and are quite good at distinguishing food from threat. That being said, to exercise caution, it is best to avoid any areas where bats are feeding and to keep a safe distance from them.
Things That Are Dangerous To Bats
There are a number of things that are dangerous to bats. For example, loud noises can scare bats and cause them to fly into objects, which can lead to injuries.
Another danger to bats is habitat destruction. When their natural habitats are destroyed, bats may lose the ability to find food and shelter. This can lead to starvation or dehydration. Climate change also has a part to play in putting pressure on habitats and the availability of suitable roost and food sources.
Even measures we are putting in place to combat climate change, such as increasing green energy sources can have a damaging impact on bats. For example, the blades of massive windmill turbines are a great confusion to many bats, and causes several fatalities.
They are also vulnerable to a particular disease called white-nose syndrome which has been known to tear through populations quite indiscriminately. This disease is far more devastating to bat populations than all their predators combined.
All of these dangers can be deadly to bats. That’s why it’s important to be aware of them and take steps to avoid harming these fascinating creatures.