Every evening around twilight, as the last traces of gold melt from the sky, the air above my backyard comes alive with small black flying creatures. They flutter a drunken loop from the shed, over the deck, above my neighbor’s roof and back again. Sometimes they torpedo earthward in a flash, mere yards above my head, then U-turn and rocket straight back up. That’s when I run inside, screaming.
I’m known as a lover of all beings furry, feathered and finned. But I’ll be honest—bats creep me out. Perhaps my fear stems from the way we humans have arbitrarily associated bats with Halloween, graveyards, vampires and all things dark and scary. Just go to any Wal-Mart in the month of October and observe all the bat decorations with fangs bared and evil, glowing red eyes.
The bats have nothing to fear from me, the lady who tiptoes to avoid stepping on worms after it rains. But we humans don’t always treat animals who are traditionally feared—think snakes, spiders, rats and wolves—so kindly. These animals are trapped, poisoned, squashed, shot and worse simply because we perceive them as being “scary.” Instead of facing our fears, we often resort to violence.
My husband, Steve—who is terrified of clowns but little else—thinks bats are the coolest, and it’s his personal mission to get me to think so too. So after some arm-twisting, I reluctantly agreed to attend “A Night Out With the Bats” with him at our local nature center last summer.
I sat there, arms folded, determined not to learn anything that would make me like bats. But when the tiny bat skeleton that was being passed around reached me, I started to cave. It was no bigger than the palm of my hand, yet so similar to a human skeleton—the tiny skull, the delicate ribcage, the four needle-thin “fingers” and “thumb” that made up the bat’s wing, preserved forever in what looked like a shrug, as if the little bat was trying to say, “What’d I ever do to you?”
The guide told us that adult vampire bats have been known to adopt orphaned babies and they will risk their lives to share food with hungry roostmates. He said that newborn baby bats cling to their mothers while they fly, and some species of baby bats even “babble” like human infants. As the sun went down and the group walked to the meadow to watch the bats—moms carrying their 3-year-olds on their backs—I couldn’t help but concede that maybe bats aren’t so different from us after all.
Bats soon peppered the sky and we used a “bat detector” to listen to their echolocation—a series of pops and squeaks escalating in frequency and intensity like a radar detector as they bounced off juicy bugs. One bat honed in on a bug and dived. If I could navigate so precisely, I thought, my car’s bumper would be in much better shape! My fear faded as I realized that if a bat can pinpoint a tiny, moving insect from yards away, there is no way one would ever accidentally bump into me. If we could all take some time to get to know more about the animals we fear, we might just find out that there isn’t much to fear at all.
A few nights ago, as I stood outside at dusk, I heard a familiar high-pitched chit-chit-chit. I looked up to see two bats darting and diving in the night sky. But this time I didn’t run inside. I stayed and watched their graceful sky-dance. They weren’t frightening to me—they were fascinating. And while I may not have the same reaction that I do when I see a fuzzy kitten, I was glad they were there. Now, if I can only convince Steve to watch that Bozo DVD that’s stashed in our attic.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.