Families packed the meeting room of Kendall Young Library to get a chance to interact with rarely seen and often misunderstood creatures of the night.
Sharon Peterson hosted a program called "Incredible Bats" at the library. She brought three bats along to show the crowd, including an African Straw-Colored bat and two Egyptian Fruit Bats.
Peterson, who lives in the Chicago area, has hosted programs at libraries and other locations across the Midwest on bats since 1996, said she became interested in bats after seeing a presentation on them.
Sharon Peterson holds a two-year-old African Straw-Colored bat that she brought to her 'Incredible Bats' program at Kendall Young Library.
"I learned so much about them, and then I talked with other people about bat myths, and I told them they weren't true," Peterson said. "So, with my daughter, we did a presentation on bats to educate the public about them. A lot of people have a lot of wrong ideas about bats, and today, hopefully we can dispel some of the myths about them."
In addition to teaching others about bats, Peterson also rehabilitates and houses several bats. She has found an abandoned baby bat before, and raised it for several weeks before returning it to its colony.
During her presentation, Peterson addressed many of the common myths about bats. Firstly, she addressed the myth that bats are blind. Generally, she said bats have excellent night vision. Bats can also use echolocation to detect objects, from obstacles to prey and more, using sound. However, that does not mean that they are blind.
Describing a bat as a bloodsucker is also a misnomer. Only a very small percentage of bats are vampire bats that consume blood. Even those vampire bats do not suck blood. Rather, they bite into an animal, such as a chicken, and use their tongues and a specially shaped lower lip to drink the blood.
Rabies is commonly associated with bats. However, Peterson said that less than one percent of bats are infected with rabies. Still, she said people, especially children, should avoid contact with a wild bat because there still is the risk that the bat might be infected. The idea that bats are generally dirty animals is also not true. Peterson said bats will groom and lick themselves much like a cat to keep clean.
The old tale of a bat trying to get into someone's hair is also generally not true. Peterson said bats generally stay away from humans, who are not a food source to bats. While bats are also mammals, they are often mistaken for rodents.
Peterson said the often misunderstood animals are beneficial to humans. Those that eat insects can eat hundreds of mosquitoes an hour. Those that eat nectar or plants help pollinate plants. Both kinds of bats are beneficial to crop growth, as insect-eating bats kill crop pests. Bats are also the prime pollinators of many desert plants in North America, including the agave plant which makes tequila.
After the presentation, visitors were able to see several bats out of their cage, and even pet the animals. Peterson said that after working with the animals for some time, she is able to handle them very well.