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They’re not actually blind — 6 fast bat facts after ferry worker’s bite

Although bats use echolocation to find their prey, their eyesight is not actually all that bad. (File photo)

Last week, an employee of the Washington State Ferries suffered a bite by a bat on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route.

The incident made Dori think of his lifelong fascination with bats — so he decided to get the bat facts for himself from biologist Annie McIntyre, who works for the New York State Parks in environmental education and conservation (and is the mother of 710 ESPN’s Danny, Dave, and Moore producer Jessamyn McIntyre).

Fact #1 – The term “blind as a bat” is commonly used, but not very accurate — bats actually have very good eyesight. It’s just that when the nocturnal creatures hunt for food in the dark, they do not use their eyes, but instead use echo-location. This means that they make sounds, and listen to the echos as the sounds bounce off of objects in their path to determine how far away their prey is.

“It is an amazing phenomenon,” McIntyre said.

How Southern Resident orcas use echo-location to find food

Fact #2 – Evolution has played a major role in bats’ use of echo-location to stay nourished. For instance, the shape of bats’ faces have evolved to help them in the process of making sounds and listening to echoes.

And on the flip side, their prey has also evolved to evade capture — one type of moth is able to recognize being hit by sonar and then put protection measures in place.

“Once it feels that sonar hit it, it flies erratically, so it’s much harder for the bat to catch it,” McIntyre said. “So that evolutionary stuff is pretty amazing.”

Fact #3 – The sociability of bats depends on the species. Some species live in colonies in caves (think Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky), but many live alone in the forest.

Fact #4 – A Puget Sound rumor holds that owners of large houses in the San Juan Islands allow bats to live in their drapes and catch insects. That way, the homeowners are able to keep their windows open all summer without the annoyance of flies and mosquitoes.

While it may sound ridiculous that bats could live inside of an inhabited home, McIntyre said that it is indeed a possibility.

“It seems like a bit of a stretch, but given the right circumstance, it’s not impossible,” McIntyre siad. “Bats are habitual, and if they have a good food source and a good place to roost, they might not mess with it.”

Fact #5 – If you want to attract bats to your home, you can put up small wooden bat houses in your yard.

For more information on how to build these, visit Bat Conservation International.

Fact #6 – While bats have gained infamy in spooky stories, there’s no need to worry about Dracula — McIntyre said that the nearest vampire bats live in Mexico.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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