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Long-eared Myotis Bat.

Night hikes are a great way to explore the out-of-doors as hikers are often treated to the unique sounds of the night from great horned owls hooting in the spring to a bugling elk in the fall. The chance to view wildlife such as a flying bat is an incredible opportunity and should not be a cause for alarm. Bats are passive, shy mammals that prefer to avoid contact with humans. All species of bats found in Montana feed exclusively on insects and are extremely valuable in controlling insect pests that transmit diseases such as West Nile Virus. A single little brown bat can consume 1200 mosquitoes in one hour.

Pallid Bat.

Montana has 15 species of bats (see the Montana Field Guide for more details). Some bats live in groups while others are solitary. Some species roost in dwellings if access is available while others prefer trees and caves. Bats at the Lewis and Clark Caverns usually arrive in April and leave after the first frost in the fall- usually September.

Bats have good eyesight but because they hunt in the dark, have a special adaptation to assist them in finding prey, eco-location. Eco-location is a form of biological radar used by bats to locate insect prey. It is not uncommon for a bat to fly towards an item that has been thrown up into the air thinking it may be prey. Rarely will a bat approach a human. Perhaps the best opportunity to view a bat in flight is to look for them at dusk near a lake, stock pond, or river where they come for water and to feed on newly hatched insects.

Rabies

You can't get rabies from bats flying around in your yard. Less then 1% of all bats are found to have rabies. Human exposure to rabies is usually due to accidental or careless handling of bats. Rabies can only be transmitted through a bite or from bat saliva entering a cut or wound. Bats should never be touched with bare hands. Avoid bats that display abnormal behavior such as those found active during the day or are unable to fly. Teach children to never pick up a bat. Have all dogs and cats vaccinated for rabies.

Every bat bite or contact must be considered a potential exposure to rabies. If there has been an encounter, wash the area with soap and water then seek medical attention. Capture the bat, alive if possible, and don't damage the head.

If the bat is dead, keep it in a clean jar in the refrigerator (not the freezer) until it is submitted for rabies testing. Rabies is fatal once the symptoms appear, but the virus has a long incubation period. Prompt vaccination after exposure can prevent the disease in humans. Rabies shots are no longer the painful ordeal they once were. They are usually given in the arm, and are no more painful than a tetanus shot, but they are very expensive. Testing the bat is the best way to know if shots are needed.

For more information about bats and rabies check out the Montana Department of Health and Social Service's website.