Bats, Spiders and Snakes - Oh My!

They creep and crawl! They slither and slide! They swoop and dive! It's the creatures that own the night and fill our slumber with the things of nightmares. Peruse the shelves of any Halloween department this month and you will be provided ample opportunity to adorn your home in terrifying paper and plastic versions of these haunting critters.

Wait, wait, wait...

What about a world infested with mice, mosquitoes and other insects? There are an estimated 10 quintillion (that's 1 followed by 19 zeros) individual insects roaming this planet at any given time. This number represents nearly 80% of the world's species. According to Encyclopedia Smithsonian, there are more than 200 million insects per human on Earth. And nearly 21 million homes in the U.S. are invaded each year by the pitter-patter of scampering mouse feet.  Enter in bats, spiders and even snakes. Unhuggable as they are, these animals actually provide a significant ecological benefit to the environment - and us! - by keeping these already mind boggling numbers in balance. Imagine what a truly creepy world it would be without the crawling, slithering, swooping ones to keep those numbers in check!
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Bats have the tendency to conjure up images of blood sucking, rabies infested flying rodents that blindly dip and dive and otherwise wreck havoc on your late night backyard festivities. Myth surrounds this animal so let's start by separating a few facts from fiction for bats and other creepy crawlers.

While rabies is most notorious in bats, the prevalence is relatively low. While caution should always be exercised, instant condemnation of these critters goes undeserved in the vast majority of situations. According to the World Health Organization, 99% of human cases are caused by domestic dog bites.
While animals such as bats do in fact carry diseases such as rabies, the chances of contracting such an illness is low with 1-3 cases reported from a variety of animal bites each year in the United States. Less than one-half of one percent of bats carry rabies. Death by mosquito, on the other hand, occurs in nearly 1 million people each year. In fact, mosquitoes are touted as the most deadly creature to mankind as carries of disease. And the average bat consumes 3,000 insects in one night!

Bats also have a bad rap for attraction to people's hair. Could this be due to their blindness? We have all heard the "blind as a bat" simile and while bats do have poor eyesight, they are not blind. Bats "see" with their ears through the use of echolocation. Using high-pitched sound waves directed out ahead of them, bats utilize the echoes that bounce of objects and relay back sight information. So when it appears that bats may be swooping down at your head looking for a place to nest, what a bat is most likely interested in are the insects flying around those lovely locks of hair!

The average spider consumes 2,000 insects each year (National Geographic). There are about 3,000 different kinds of spiders in the United States. Most species are harmless and rarely bite people. All spiders are venomous, but only a few have strong enough fangs and powerful enough venom to harm humans. A spider’s venom helps them kill or subdue their prey. Some people may be allergic to spider venom but only a few species of spiders are known to produce bites that are harmful to humans. That venom helps spiders consume nearly 2,000 insects per year.

 Even snakes help to control pest populations, especially common snakes here in Iowa. Non-constricting, non-venomous snakes will typically make a meal out of insects and small rodents. Garter snakes are the most common genus of snakes in North America, living in grasslands, woodlands, marshes and your backyard or garden. These little guys are doing your yard some good by eating a variety of critters including insects, mice and voles. Other species such as bullsnakes specifically require larger prey and are quite beneficial in controlling the damaging effects of rodent overpopulation.

So the next time you come across one of these critters, avoid the urge to swat, stomp, or otherwise smoosh out of existence one of nature's most effective (and free!) forms of pest control!


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