They're Vital Desert Critters, but Never, Ever Handle One
Beal, Tom, AZ Daily Star
On Thursday at dusk, about 100 people lined the Rillito bike path beneath the Campbell Avenue bridge as thousands of bats dropped and swirled just a few feet overhead.
In the dry riverbed, children ran and screamed as the nightly exodus from the bats' seasonal nursery roost began.
Bats streamed westward to the farm fields along the Santa Cruz River to feast on moths and any other insects within reach.
A pregnant or lactating bat will eat her weight in insects each night to produce a rich milk that is 20 percent fat, said bat researcher Eran Levin. Baby bats grow to the size of their mothers within three weeks, Levin said.
That's why these Mexican freetailed bats are here in the humid days of summer. They locate their nurseries where insects abound.
The 28 species of bat that call Arizona home are protected by state law. They are critical to agriculture and to desert ecology.
Two nectar-eating species pollinate our signature desert plants.
The 26 insect-eating species hold down the agricultural pest population and hold mosquito populations to a level more acceptable to human desert inhabitants.
Bats are useful, fascinating creatures.
We should admire them, naturalists say, not fear them. Discard the myths. Bats are not blind. They don't get tangled in your hair or suck your blood.
We should also respect them and never handle them.
They, like just about any mammal, can carry rabies, and they are the animal most likely to spread rabies to humans.
Most bats are not rabid. Some are, and that's enough for health officials who say you should be vaccinated for rabies if you have contact with a bat.
Rabies tests, usually conducted on bats that have come in contact with humans, show a 3-percent positive result.
In the wild, less than 0.5 percent test positive.
The odds are good, but health officials note that rabies is a fatal disease. There is no treatment for it once symptoms appear. If you get it, you die.
The disease is rare in humans. The last rabies death reported in Arizona was in 1981, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control analyzed 19 rabies deaths recorded in the United States in a 10-year period ending in 2006.
Bat encounters accounted for 17 of those deaths, and the majority occurred when bats got into people's homes and people removed them without taking proper precautions.
In Arizona, health officials record about 70 positive rabies tests in animals each year, with most of those in bats. …