Bats have been voted the UK’s third least favourite mammal after rats and mice in a recent survey, with one in five respondents claiming to dislike or hate them.
Women, young adults and people living in London or the North East are the most likely to have an aversion to bats, according to the OnePoll survey of 1,000 adults.
Finding bats scary was the most common reason why people dislike them; in particular many respondents were concerned that a bat could become entangled in their hair. This fear is unfounded, however, because bats navigate themselves precisely using echolocation.
Other respondents thought that bats were ugly in appearance, while some described them as ‘vermin’ or ‘flying rats’. In fact, bats are not rodents but belong to the order of chiropteran mammals and they are not responsible for spreading diseases such as rabies.
The survey also highlighted widespread misconceptions about bats including, the belief that they are blind, which was held by almost 40% of Britons. In addition, a third of respondents did not realise that bats are pollinators of many commercial plants, such as banana, mango and cocoa.
Bats are protected in the UK, which means that it is illegal to capture, disturb or destroy their roosts. Nevertheless, three in ten respondents were unaware of bats’ protected status, while bat legislation was a source of resentment for some.
‘Bats are misunderstood species partially due to their elusive lifestyle; because they are nocturnal, many are unaware of their unusual behaviours and fascinating appearance,’ said zoologist Charlotte Chivers, who conducted the research. ‘It is vital that awareness surrounding bats is improved, as they are valuable providers of various services in the UK, including insect pest control.’
‘In Europe bats have been greeted with superstition as far back as medieval times. Their imagery has since inspired depictions of demons and most famously Dracula,’ added Joe Nunez-Mino, Director of Communications and Fundraising at the Bat Conservation Trust. ‘These negative associations have set the precedent for a variety of misconceptions that are hard to shake off simply because most people are unlikely to see a bat up close.’
The UK has 18 species of bat, all of which are insectivorous. Worldwide, there are over 1,100 bat species, and around one quarter of them are threatened with extinction.