Bat chance

There were enough bats in the desert outside of Phoenix to drive one, well, batty, if we believed what the grade-school teachers taught us.

We were trained to be scared—really scared—of the little things. When I saw one on the playground of Ocotillo Elementary School, the teacher screamed at us to stand waaaay back and announced it to be disease-ridden and vicious! She spooked the girls by declaring that bats could get caught up in their hair and transmit rabies through the resulting bites. She roped off the area until animal control carted the tiny mammal away.

Yet, when I glanced above a campfire, I would catch glimpses of bats swooping and diving about, and they never seemed to bother us, much less attack. I learned later that the nearby Apache tribe thought of the bats in a more favorable, mythical way.

So, which was it, spooky disease carrier or graceful, mythical pilot?

It seems the Euro-American crowd I came from tended to pass on the evil associations of vampires without looking deeper. When we didn’t know something well enough, such as a person from another culture, we tended to think the worst and apply labels. And so it was with bats.

It turned out our teacher was right to be concerned about a bat on the ground and the possibility of rabies, but that shouldn’t have been all we were taught.

We hardly know the critters, and that’s because they seem to know that contact with humans could be hazardous to their health (see “The secret lives of bats,”). Reclusive rather than dangerous, they want to be left alone to do the necessary work of gobbling up insects and passing on pollen.