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Bat-ter up! Bat Week celebrates Arizona’s creatures of the night

Posted October 23, 2019

PHOENIX — Bats get a bad rap.

To some, they’re creepy flyers of the night, waiting to swoop from the skies and scare unsuspecting people out for an evening stroll. Little do they know that bats are essential to Arizona’s ecosystems and agricultural economy, eating millions of insects nightly each summer, while others are important pollinators, feeding on nectar, pollen and flowering desert plants.  

The Arizona Game and Fish Department aims to change that stigma during Bat Week, an international celebration that runs from Oct. 24 to 31 to recognize the important role bats play in nature. 

“Twenty-eight bat species call Arizona home,” said Angie McIntire, an Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist and bat specialist. “These fascinating animals are hard at work every night eating their body weight in insects, such as moths, mosquitoes, aquatic insects and flies.”

The Mexican free-tailed bat can fly upwards of 100 mph and is found throughout the western U.S., but it migrates south to Mexico and Central America during winter. These bats roost in large colonies inside caves, under bridges or in abandoned buildings near water, such as at the urban bat-viewing area in Phoenix near the intersection of 40th Street and Camelback Road, and the Ina Road Bridge over the Santa Cruz River in Tucson.

Townsend’s big-eared bats are a delicate, beautiful species with large, long ears that fold down and look like ram horns when resting or hibernating in abandoned mines or caves. 

The canyon bat (formerly known as Western pipistrelle) is Arizona’s smallest bat, weighing between 3 to 6 grams and has a wingspan of up to 9 inches. It’s one of the earliest bats out searching for dinner and is often seen fluttering like a butterfly. 

While bats have many supporters, the unfounded stigma of disease-carrying mammals still lingers.

“Although public perception is changing, many people still associate bats with rabies,” McIntire said “There are hundreds of thousands of bats flying throughout Arizona’s night skies, but only a very small percentage of these are found to carry illnesses such as rabies. Bats are no more or less likely to carry diseases as any other animal.” 

However, if a bat is within reach and doesn’t fly away when approached it is likely sick as healthy bats will not leave themselves vulnerable. Never handle a bat that’s been found on the ground or hanging low on a building or wall, instead notify your nearest AZGFD office.

As part of Bat Week, the department encourages the public to help conserve and protect the state’s bats by learning more about them and planting native plants that will attract insects or fruit-bearing desert plants to support those looking for nectar, such as the lesser long-nosed bat — one of two nectar bats in Arizona that will also use hummingbird feeders. 

Those who see lesser long-nosed bats using their birdfeeders are asked to notify AZGFD to participate in an ongoing study

“Bats may not be for everyone, but they benefit us all,” McIntire said. “Take the pallid bat: if you’re not a fan of scorpions or centipedes, these bats are the ones you’ll want around your home. They’ll happily swoop down onto your property to make a quick meal out of them.” 

To learn more about how AZGFD works to conserve and protect the state’s wildlife, visit www.azgfd.gov. To provide a contribution to support the department’s on-the-ground conservation efforts, visit www.azwildlifehero.com.