There are more than 40 species of bats in the United States, each with distinctive physical characteristics.
Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. Because they are nocturnal, they hunt at night and roost during the day in trees, bat boxes, under eaves and in buildings where they can gain access through open spaces in roofs, attics or walls.
All bats in Washington State are insectivores, and usually live around fresh water where insects are plentiful. Most active in the spring and summer, many bats migrate or hibernate during the winter. Contrary to popular belief, bats are not blind. They have fairly good eyesight, but do navigate and find food primarily by using a sonar-like system called echolocation.
Most bats give birth to a single baby which is unable to fly for several months. Babies cling to their mothers until they are too big to be carried, and are then left behind in a nursery colony while the adults hunt. Accessible attic spaces, which are often warm and dark, are sometimes used as nurseries until the babies are old enough to fly on their own.
For centuries, bats have been the subjects of negative mythology, but in reality they are useful predators and help to control insects. A single bat can consume up to 2,000 mosquitoes in one night.
Healthy bats prefer to keep their distance from humans. Stories about bats becoming entangled in people's hair are myths. Bats can be rabid, although this is an exaggerated danger. That said, there are rare instances of rabid bats biting humans and other animals.
Never attempt to pick up a bat with your bare hands. If you find a sick or injured bat, contact PAWS Wildlife Center (if you live in King or Snohomish Counties in Washington State) for assistance, or if you live outside of Western Washington find your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
There are only a very few cases in the U.S. of rabies transmission from bat to human. Possible signs of rabies in bats include activity during daylight hours, and the inability to fly. If a bat is around people and the noise of human activity (all of which a normal bat will avoid), that is another possible sign the bat may have rabies. Rabid bats may also be lethargic, which unfortunately renders them docile and approachable.
If you or a domestic animal in your care is bitten, or if material such as saliva or spinal cord contents comes in contact with your eyes, nose, mouth or a wound of any kind, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical advice immediately.
Some bats will bite and not leave any marks. That is why it is crucial to seek immediate medical advice, if you awaken and find a bat in your living area, near a child, or a disabled or impaired person. If you think a pet has been similarly exposed, immediately take the animal to a veterinarian.
Like other wild animals, bats sometimes find their way into buildings. They do not chew or dig their way in, but squeeze through cracks and holes less than an inch in diameter. Damage caused by bats is usually minimal, but the smell of their droppings can be offensive.
If you discover a bat in your living space:
Above: A Spotted Bat at PAWS Wildlife Center