MYTH: Bats are blind.
BUSTED! Bats’ eyes are small and sometimes poorly developed, but they work just fine. Megabats—larger bats that include fruit bats—search for food using sight and smell. Micro-bats—which include the smaller, familiar snub-nosed bats—mainly hunt by echolocation. Using this system, bats send out sound waves and listen for the echo to bounce off insects and other objects.
MYTH: Bats in your house are bad luck.
BUSTED! Bats are probably associated with bad luck because of a vampire legend. Vampires exist only in books and movies, and bats can’t cause bad luck. That doesn’t mean you want one in your house; it could spread certain diseases. Bats in your yard, however, are great—a little brown bat can eat up to a thousand mosquito-size insects in an hour. In fact, bats are so lucky for humans that many people build bat houses to attract them to their yards.
MYTH: All bats have rabies.
BUSTED! According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 5 to 6 percent of bats captured for testing have rabies. That said, as with any wild animal, don't handle bats unless it's necessary.
MYTH: Bats fly toward and get tangled in people’s hair.
BUSTED! Bats hang upside down from their roosts and tend to drop down and flap their wings before they start to lift off in flight. So though it may appear the animals are swooping down on you and want to nest in your hair, they're not. In fact, bats don’t make nests.
MYTH: Bats suck people’s blood.
BUSTED! While vampire bats have been known to bite people, they primarily feed on cattle. These bats actually only weigh two ounces and will take just a small amount of blood when they bite the cattle. The bats’ saliva has special anti-blood-clotting properties and is being used to develop a medication called draculin.
MYTH: Bats aren’t that important.
BUSTED! Like bees, bats are pollinators. According to the U.S. Forest Service, bats are responsible for dispersing seeds that grow into bananas, avocados, and nearly 300 other plant species. By chowing down on thousands of bugs each night, bats also act as a natural pest control for plants.
MYTH: Bats are a wicked enemy.
BUSTED! Bats are quite unselfish. They've been known to share food with other bats. Vampire bats will even regurgitate blood for bats who didn’t get to feed.
And bats actually have an enemy: white-nose syndrome. This fungus grows on bats in the U.S. while they hibernate. According to the Organization for Bat Conservation, white-nose syndrome has killed 5.7 million bats in the northeastern U.S. since 2006.
Photographs by VALERIY KIRSANOV, DREAMSTIME; JOEL SARTORE, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION; and MICHAEL NICHOLS, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION