Rabid bats in our area, as well as blood-sucking vampires from the movies, give bats a bad name. But around here, bats eat insects and nectar and are very beneficial to us nonflying mammals.

Rabies and bats

Bats can have rabies, but it is extremely rare for that to impact humans.

The chance of getting rabies from a bat is very small — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are one or two cases a year in the U.S. But bats are the most common source of human rabies in the United States. Of 19 cases reported from 1997 to 2006, 17 were associated with bats. In all but one of the cases the bat was inside the home.

Less than 1/10 of 1 percent of wild bats have rabies. A bat must be sick with the disease to pass it to another animal via a bite. Bats with the disease become progressively paralyzed. The mere presence of bats does not pose a health threat to humans.

Encounter a bat?

  • If you see a dead or injured bat, do not handle it with bare hands.
  • Contact batrescue.org if there has been no bare-handed contact.
  • You can download the app Animalhelpnow to your phone.
  • Contact animal control if there has been bare-handed contact with a bat.

The Health Care Agency is advising anyone who may have come into physical contact with a rabid bat, or saw someone else in contact with it, to call its Communicable Disease Control Division at 714-834-8180 (between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.) or 714-834-7792 (after hours).

Pets that may have had contact with the bat should be taken to a veterinarian.

Of the 225 cases of animals with rabies in California in 2018, 193 were bats, 28 were skunks, there were 3 foxes and 1 raccoon.

In 2019, from January to May 17, there were 44 cases of rabies detected in animals detected; 30 were bats and 14 were skunks.

California’s bats

There are at least 25 known species of bats in California, and about 24 of these are in Southern California. The largest and smallest known bats are in our region.

Bats are the only mammals that fly. Some can eat their weight in insects in a night. They prey on moths, mosquitoes, wasps, beetles and arthropods (crickets, spiders, scorpions).

There are 45 species of bats in the United States and Canada.

Worldwide, there are more than 1,300 species of bats. The majority of bats inhabit tropical forests.

Need for speed

Most people think of a cheetah when asked to name the fastest mammal. Cheetahs can reach speeds of 75 mph on land, but a 2016 study by the University of Tennessee found that the Brazilian free-tailed bat could reach speeds up to 100 mph, making it by far the fastest mammal on Earth.

Sources: Stephanie Remington, wildlife biologist; “California Mammals,” by E.W. Jameson Jr., and Hans J. Peeters; Seaandsageaudubon.org; ocbats.org, California Department of Public Health, Naturalist.org


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