Media & Education
BATS Magazine

Volume 38, Issue 3, 2019

Spooks of Samhain

How did bats become associated with Halloween?


Head into your local Halloween shop this fall and look at the decorations. It’s very likely you’ll see some fake webs, crawling spiders, and dangling bats. They’re standard Halloween items, but have you ever thought about why? Bats are amazing creatures, do they really deserve their “spooky” reputation?

Why exactly are bats tied to Halloween? One theory is that early U.S. settlers from Europe came across large groups of bats during the fall. During this time, many species throughout the eastern U.S. display swarming behaviors as they mate and head to their winter roosts. These settlers might have linked these batty observations with traditional autumn holidays (such as Samhain, a precursor to our modern day Halloween). Another theory draws a link between bats and large bonfires held during this time of year. These warm fires may have attracted flying insects, which also brought in bats. And while stories of vampires could be found in folklore across Europe, descriptions of blood-feeding bats in Central and South America by European explorers helped inspire spooky stories like Bram Stoker’s bat-like vampire, reinforcing a reputation as scary predators.

Bats are generally nocturnal, and people tend to react instinctively to creatures they see in the night. Being startled by a rat or an opossum often happens at night, and a friendly bat swooping nearby is understandably a little shocking. However, bats are extraordinary creatures that play a vital role in our worlds.

Here are some important bat facts that disprove any “scary” notions:

  • Bats aren’t “flying rats!” In fact, they are more closely related to carnivores and ungulates than they are to rodents
  • Out of more than 1,400 species of bats, only three are of the vampire variety. Only one of these vampire bat species feeds on mammals, such as livestock. The other two species prefer the blood of birds!
  • Bats aren’t interested in flying toward people or building a nest in someone’s hair

North American bats are all small, and like most wild animals, they prefer to avoid humans when possible.

Bats play critical roles in ecosystems around the world. For example, they serve as important pollinators and seed dispersers in tropical and subtropical climates. They make tequila possible through agave pollination—that doesn’t sound scary!

At BCI, we appreciate Halloween as a fun time for scares. Many of our staff members love haunted houses and scary movies. However, bats are amazing creatures that deserve protection and admiration. Bats are flying mammals! They protect our crops from millions of tons of flying pests every year. So this Halloween, keep the scaring to the ghouls and goblins, but learn to appreciate and love the amazing bat.

 

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