What pollinates plants, munches on mosquitoes and is the world's only furry flier? Bats, of course!

These delightful creatures not only are fascinating and unique, but also important to both humans and their wild communities.

Until relatively recently, bats were widely considered to be a nuisance animal in America and often were exterminated indiscriminately.

Most of this was the result of simple misunderstandings. The image many people have of bats is as blood-sucking fiends who will get caught in your hair and give you rabies. None of this is correct.

While most bats eat insects, there are a few bats that have more interesting diets. Some bats eat fish, frogs, mice, birds or even other bats. Another group of bats feed on nectar and fruit. Of course, the most infamous diet belongs to the vampire bats who do, in fact, feed on blood.

Their diet may be creepy, but vampire bats have gotten a bad rap.

When you stop to consider the diminutive size of these creatures, you may realize how ridiculous it is to fear them. An average vampire bat weighs only 1.25 ounces and would fit in the palm of your hand.

Vampire bats are native to Central and South America, where they usually roost in caves and hollow trees. They consume only a couple of tablespoons of blood each night, usually from sleeping cattle or chickens who never knew the bat was there.

Quite the opposite of being frightening, these bats may actually be able to save our lives. The saliva of vampire bats contains an anti-coagulate that keeps the blood flowing while they are having a meal.

Scientists are studying the properties of bat saliva for potential human medical uses. Some day, you may have a bat to thank for preventing a stroke.

Insect- and fruit-eating bats have much more obvious benefits to humans.

Fruit- and nectar-eating bats are responsible for pollinating and dispersing the seeds of a wide range of plants we take for granted. Without fruit bats, we likely would have to do without bananas, mangoes and agave cactus.

Without insect-eating bats, we would see a dramatic increase in the population of nuisance insects such as mosquitoes and crop-destroying rootworms.

A single, little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. Multiply this by the number of hours they spend eating a night and the 40 years they could potentially live, and I definitely vote to keep the bats around.

Where rabies is concerned, bats are no more likely to carry rabies than many other wild animals, and far less likely to infect a human.

Even a rabid bat usually will only bite when threatened.

And as far as getting stuck in your hair goes, I haven't really heard about it happening much since the '80s. Now that big hair has calmed itself down, fewer people have mosquitoes getting caught in and around their "do's," and that's what the bats were after in the first place.

Halloween is always a time for bringing out the "creepy" things that surround us. Chances are good that if you come to Boo! At the Zoo Saturday, you will see more than one bat hanging around.

When you see that bat, stop and think about how cool it is that these tiny creatures can have such a big impact on our world. Then grab another piece of candy, and enjoy your night!

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