Bats are victims of widespread fears and misconceptions, and these often lead to people harming them or their habitats.
One common misconception is that bats frequently swoop into women’s hair and become entangled in it. In some regions, people claim that this will cause people to develop chronic headaches, lice, or rabies, while other regions have dramatic tales about bats collecting hair for witches to use in curses.
Fortunately, bats rarely, if ever, actually get tangled in anyone’s hair. Here’s why:
Bats actually have no motive at all to dive into anyone’s hair. Despite old superstitions, a bat doesn’t collect hair to use in curses or anything else. Bats do not build nests like birds do, and don’t collect food from the fur or hair of any animals.
A small, vulnerable animal not much bigger than a mouse isn’t going to take a chance on confronting an animal as large or dangerous as a human. Vampire bats don’t live anywhere in the United States and, even in areas where they are common, humans are not their normal target. If you’re here in the United States, any bat you see is looking for bugs, not blood.
Despite the popular idiom “blind as a bat,” most bats actually have great eyesight in addition to their excellent system of echolocation. An animal capable of hunting gnats in the night sky clearly knows how to get around without running into things, so a bat’s chances of blindly encountering a human are slim to none.
Rabies is another concern often brought up by people convinced of the myth that bats fly into hair. Although we typically think of rabies as a disease that causes extreme aggression, fury is not a particularly common symptom of rabies in in bats. Instead, a rabid bat is likely to be lethargic, weak, disoriented, and unable to fly. Some rabid bats may even look completely healthy. Rabies isn’t likely to lead a bat into someone’s hair.
So why does the myth persist?
Bats adore mosquitoes– they’re among their favorite foods!– and mosquitoes love human blood. Where there are mosquitoes swarming around people, sometimes bats will swoop low to snatch the bugs… and maybe, every once in a while, a bat has actually brushed against someone’s scalp. It’s also possible that, at some point or another, a bat might have gotten tangled in someone’s hair, but if this has occurred at all, it is certainly not a common or ordinary experience.
People love to invent exaggerate stories about animals they perceive as frightening. It has happened since the dawn of humanity, when we huddled by fires and told stories of terrible monsters lurking in the dark. And it still happens today, throughout the world. Since bats have a reputation for being very scary, it’s predictable– though unfortunate– that they’re the target of many such tall tales.
If you did have direct contact with a bat, follow up with your doctor and your county health department to make sure you don’t need post-exposure rabies treatment as a precaution. But please don’t fear them or hate them.
Be kind to your bat neighbors and help dispel misconceptions. The bats you might see outside are working hard to fill their bellies with mosquitoes and other pests that spread serious diseases. They’re not interested in your hair.