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Naturalist disproves myths about bats

Dan Peterson holds an Egyptian fruit bat during his Incredible Bat Show presentation Saturday at Haish Gym in DeKalb.
Dan Peterson holds an Egyptian fruit bat during his Incredible Bat Show presentation Saturday at Haish Gym in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Dan Peterson normally keeps his pet bats in his garage, but he brought them to the DeKalb Park District on Saturday for everyone to see.

Peterson, a bat naturalist and former carpenter, owns four African straw-colored fruit bats and two Egyptian fruit bats. He showed his bats to a crowd of more than 200 people at the Haish Gym to debunk myths about the winged mammals.

The event, the inaugural Incredible Bat Show, drew about twice as many people as expected, program director Colleen Belmont said.

There are 12 species of bats around Illinois, and all of them are insectivorous. One is the little brown bat, which can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour, Peterson said.

“People don’t realize how beneficial [bats] are and how good they are for us and for the environment,” he said.

Bats save us billions of dollars each year on pesticides because they eat moths. Moths lay eggs that hatch on crops, destroying the crops, Peterson said.

Girl Scout Troop 3223 of Kings attended the event. Co-leader Niki Adamski said they try to do at least one outing a month and thought the bat event would be good because it’s close to Halloween.

Adamski’s daughter, six-year-old Kennedy, said her favorite holiday is Halloween. She was excited to see the bats, even though she didn’t know a lot about them.

“All I know is that they’re black, not pink,” Kennedy said.

Peterson spoke for about an hour explaining facts to the crowd. Some of them include:

• Bats are not blind. All of them can see. About 75 percent of bats may use echolocation to help them at night because their eyes are too small.

• Not all bats suck blood. Only three species of vampire bats consume blood. They make a small incision to a sleeping animal or person and lick the blood off.

• Bats have naturally curved toes, allowing them to hang upside-down as they sleep.

• Most bats are not diseased. Less than one percent of all bat species in the world carry diseases such as rabies.

The medical community is doing clinical trials on a blood thinner that occurs naturally in bat saliva. It is thought to be better than coumadin because it goes directly to the source, rather than thinning the body’s entire bloodstream. The FDA hasn’t approved it yet.

When Peterson took the bats out of their cages, kids swarmed around him. Peterson said the bats won’t attack humans except out of self-defense.

Bats can be found in marshy, boggy areas or anywhere there’s water, Peterson said. There are bats in DeKalb, but they may be hard to spot since they are nocturnal.

“You’ve got to know what you’re looking for,” Peterson said. “And you’ve got to know when to look for them. They are here, but they’re not as plentiful as they used to be.”

If a bat flies into your home, Peterson said to open the doors and windows because the bats eventually will fly out.

According to the University of Illinois, about three to five percent of bats in the state test positive for rabies. If a bat comes into contact with someone, make sure to get them tested for rabies. Also, keep the infected bat and call the Department of Animal Control immediately.

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