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Why fear Bats?

July 11, 2014

Why fear Bats?

As manager of Rachel Page’s bat lab, May Dixon juggles a dozen things at once. She briefs new arrivals on tropical diseases, trains them how to safely capture bats and coordinates field activities

As manager of Rachel Page’s bat lab, May Dixon juggles a dozen things at once. She briefs new arrivals on tropical diseases, trains them how to safely capture bats and coordinates field activities. As a researcher, Dixon contributes to STRI’s evergrowing body of groundbreaking knowledge, specializing in cognition and long-term memory.

She’s also a veteran educator in the battle against chiroptophobia fear of bats. As Dixon is regularly reminded when engaged in outreach, common misconceptions abound.

Dixon says people fear bats because bats live in a different sensory world, using inaudible sound waves to navigate darkness. “We’re afraid of things we don’t understand and bats are just about everything we don’t understand.”

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding is that all bats are vampires. Of the world’s 1,200-plus bat species, only three are. Only Desmodus rotundus is common where there are cattle and may bite humans.

Bats are integral to ecosystem and human health. They pollinate, disperse seeds, and consume vast numbers of insects that transmit diseases and eat our crops. Bat researchers improve our understanding of echolocation — bats’ method for navi-gating in the dark, social learning, cognition, sexual selection and evolution.

“The more I work with bats the more I realize they’re not little winged rats,” says Dixon. “They’re clever, they’re inquisitive, and they’re feisty. They can be cute once you get to know them.”

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