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Stories from the valley

These Bats don’t suck…. Really!

Contributed by Jim Morris

If television and movies have taught us anything, it’s to fear the bat. After all, who hasn’t had phantom throat pain when a vampire bat swoops into a parlor, transforms into Bela Lugosi and gets to work on a defenseless Baroness?

I hate to get in the way of those cinematic classics, but bats are very misunderstood. In fact, there aren’t any bloodsuckers in Transylvania at all.

Corky Quirk is one of those trying to educate people that bats are a friend, not foe. She started working at the Yolo Basin Foundation in 2004, teaching kids about wetlands. Since there was a 250,000-animal bat colony under the Yolo Causeway nearby, she soaked up all she could about this misunderstood creature.

She has since founded Northern California Bats, an organization based in Sacramento dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of bats and to education about these important animals.

Bats 2There are many misunderstandings about bats. For example: there are only three species out of 1,200 species worldwide that are called Vampire bats. They all reside in South and Central America. They do feed on blood. There are no such species in North America (or Transylvania for that matter). Also, most bats don’t have rabies. They can contract it, but only a small percentage in the wild ever do.

The good news: bats eat copious amounts of insects – saving U.S. farmers an estimated $34 billion in reduced pesticide use and crop losses. For example, 1,000 Mexican free-tailed bats eat a total of two brown grocery sacks full of bugs nightly.

Corky gives frequent presentations at the Yolo Basin Foundation, fairs, schools and events.

“When I’m with the general public, there’s a lot of fear,” she said. “People are often concerned that the bat will carry disease or get out of my hand and bite them. However, once they see the animal, often they do a 180-degree change for the better. They learn that bats are small, quite passive and they learn about their importance.”

After more than a decade with bats, Corky says she still learns something new every day. “If there’s a finite point I haven’t found it,” she remarked. “I’m constantly learning.”

If you’d like to know more about bats, you can sign up for a bat talk and walk. Registration starts May first and the tours begin in June.