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Bat quiz: Put a scientific spin on your Halloween

Bats have an image problem: Who likes the idea of flying mice?

Sure, they can fly – they’re actually the only mammal capable of true and sustained flight. But they are not rodents.

Take this quiz to find out how much – or how little – you know about bats. The answers are provided by Lisa Gatens, curator of mammals at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. John Bordsen

True or false: Bats are good neighbors.

True. Because bats are active only at night, they feed on nocturnal insects, including mosquitoes and many important agricultural pests. A large colony of big brown bats can eat 18 million corn rootworms each summer, protecting harvests. A single evening bat can dispense with 21,000 insects annually.

They may fly alarmingly near you in pursuit of a mosquito, giving the appearance of swooping to attack, but bats do not attack people.

Bats are indicators of air quality and ecological health, and pollinate and disperse the seeds of many ecologically and economically significant plants.

True or false: Just a handful of bat species reside in the Carolinas.

False. There are 16 species of bats known to occur in North Carolina. Among the most common found across North Carolina are the tricolored bat, big brown bat, red bat and (except in the mountains in extreme western North Carolina) the evening bat. Though the silver-haired bat occurs all across the state, it is relatively uncommon. The hoary bat is uncommon throughout the Southeast. It is solitary and roosts primarily on tree trunks, never in buildings.

The gray bat, Indiana myotis, Virginia big-eared bat, Southeastern myotis and Rafinesque’s big-eared bat are the rarest bats in the state. The first three are on the federal endangered species list and occur only in the North Carolina mountain region.

True or false: The largest species of bat in North Carolina has a wingspan of up to 16 inches.

True. The largest bat, and generally one of the most spectacular in appearance, is the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus). With a wingspan of up to 16 inches and a body length of nearly 6 inches, it is quite impressive. Adding to its overall impressiveness is the coloration of the fur. The hair has four bands of color – a black base, followed by tan and dark brown bands with tips frosted white. On the throat and under the forearm are patches of yellow. White patches are found on the shoulders and wrists.

True or false: The smallest bat in the state is about as big as a fun-size Snickers.

True. The tricolored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) – formerly known as the Eastern pipistrelle – weighs in at about a fifth of an ounce and has a wingspan of 4 to 5 inches and body length of 3 ¾ inches. This bat is generally light brown in color, although the individual hairs are tricolored, having a dark brown base, a pale band in the middle and a dark tip.

True or false: There are bats that drink blood.

True. Only three species of vampire bat exist in the world – and all occur in Latin America.

All bats found in North Carolina eat insects.

True or false: If you find a bat on the ground, it’s OK to pick it up.

False. The ground is not a normal habitat for bats. Finding one there is an indication the animal may be sick or dying, particularly if the bat does not attempt to fly when approached. Bats are not aggressive when rabid or otherwise ill, but even if they appear docile and safe, they should not be handled.

True or false: Raising a ruckus is the best way to get a bat out of your house.

False. Instead, remain calm. If the bat is flying around, close all doors to the room to isolate the bat in one room. Leave open one door or window to the outside to allow the bat to escape. It will usually find its way out. You may also use a butterfly net to capture a bat in flight, approaching from behind to avoid detection.

If the bat is at rest, approach it quietly from behind with an inverted box, coffee can or other such container. Place the container over the resting animal to trap it against a wall or floor. Then slide a piece of thin cardboard under the open end to contain the animal for transport outside. Although handling a bat is not recommended, you may pick it up if you are wearing leather work gloves.

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