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Bats of Orange County, CA: Part 1

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says “look, a bat?” A creature of the night? A black thing that flies around in a crazy fashion? Or maybe an ugly furry rodent that sucks a person’s blood? Well, it turns out that bats can be all of those things and more! We are going to examine some of the myths and interesting facts of a select few of these mysterious creatures in this two-part article series. There are more than 40 species of bats known in California, 11 of them being in Orange County and all of which eat nectar or insects, not blood. As a matter of fact, only three species of bats on this planet drink blood and they do not reside in the United States. Let’s take a look at the 11 species you might see here in Orange County, you can click the link for more detailed information on each of them and join us next week when we highlight the three most common ones in Orange County.

  1. Mexican Free-Tailed Bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)

Mexican free-tailed bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

2. Canyon Bat (Parastrellus hesperus)

Canyon bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

3. Western Mastiff Bats (Eumops perotis)

Western mastiff bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

4. Big Brown Bat (Epetiscus fuscus)

Big brown bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

5. Yuma Myotis (Myotis yumanensis)

Yuma myotis. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

6. California Myotis (Myotis californicus)

California myotis. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

7. Hoary Bats (Lasiurus cinereus)

Hoary bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

8. Western Red Bats (Lasiurus blosevellii)

Western red bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

9. Western Yellow Bat (Lasiurus xanthinus)

Western yellow bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

10. Silver-Haired Bats (Lasiurus noctivigans)

Silver-haired bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

11. Pocketed Free-Tailed Bat (Nyctinomops femorosaccus)

Pocketed free-tailed bat. Photo by José G. Martínez-Fonseca

Of this group, the three most common bats in Orange County are the Yuma Myotis, Mexican Free-Tailed Bats, and the Big Brown Bats which we will discuss in the 2nd part of our series. Before we dive into the details about these critters, let’s debunk a few myths about bats in general:

Myth: bats are blind. The saying “blind as a bat” is phenomenally misleading, because bats are far from blind. A bat’s vision may not include the spectrum of color that we humans are used to, however, all species of bats have better vision than we do when it comes to low light and some species actually have 3 times better vision than humans. They use their echolocation for hunting in the night to find food in places that might be hidden, however, that does not mean that they don’t have perfectly good eyesight for traveling and hunting during the low light of dawn and dusk.

Myth: bats are rabid. This can be true, however, only 1% of bats are infected with rabies. It is actually incredibly rare for a bat to have rabies and the ones that do are normally out in the forests which are outside of Orange County. Needless to say, there have been very few cases of rabid bats in Orange County and it is out of character for a bat to approach a human. So if you are approached by a bat, please do not take it lightly, do not handle the bat in any way, and contact the proper authorities.

Myth: bats are like rodents. People believe that bats carry disease, behave, live like, and are biologically structured like rodents. This is actually false. Bats are more like primates and are more closely related to humans than they are to mice or any other rodent. They belong to the order Chiroptera and only give birth to one baby at a time and can have a long lifespan. Their behaviors and lifestyle are closer to that of mammals.

Next in our Bats of Orange County series, we will talk about the 3 most common bats found in Orange County and why it is important to understand the species and allow them to make our gardens beautiful.

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