It is late October and we all know what that means: Halloween! Bats are part of our Halloween culture. Children love to be scared of bats and love to dangle plastic bats on elastic strings in each other’s faces! Teachers make multiple stencils of bats and children color or decorate them to post around the classroom. All this excitement about bats at Halloween is great but often the real creatures are greatly misunderstood. People think bats are dangerous, dirty, blood sucking creatures that attack humans. Actually bats are quite clean and groom themselves meticulously. Bats do not want to bite you and rarely have rabies, and out of the thousand species of bats on Earth, only three drink blood. Bats are actually very fascinating. Bats are the only flying mammal. The skeleton of a bat is very similar to our skeleton, except the fingers (they are quite long because they make up the wing). Bats are quite diverse. The smallest bat is found in Thailand, and is called the Bumble Bee Bat, and the largest bat found in Java is called a Flying Fox (a misconception…it is not a flying fox but a large bat with a six foot wing span!) Bats provide a valuable service as pollinators. According to Merlin D. Tuttle, a recognized worldwide authority on bats, “Fruit and nectar-eating bats that disperse seeds and pollinate flowers are vital to the survival of rain forests and to the production of associated crops worth millions of dollars annually.” Bats also serve another purpose: They can eat hundreds of mosquitoes an hour (about 600—that equals about 3,000 mosquitoes a night)! And here is another reason to not fear bats: The bacterium that bats produce is being studied as a possible source for antibiotics and as a use in toxic waste cleanup. Someday research on bats might lead to new antibiotics and a cleaner environment. The next time you eat a banana, a mango or a guava (three of the many fruits pollinated by bats), or are annoyed by a mosquito, think of the greatly misunderstood bat and thank bats for all they provide for you.