Imagine coming home to find bats in your garage. That’s not so shocking for Dan and Sharon Peterson.
At their home, the couple cares for ten Egyptian fruit bats and two straw-colored fruit bats, including a pregnant female, all native to Africa.
“They are much larger than the bats we’d find here in the United States,” said Dan. “This bat would be the 2nd largest bat on the continent of Africa, with about a 30-inch wingspan.”
As their name suggests, these bats feed not on humans but on fresh fruit.
What started as a public service project for their daughter’s Girl Scout troop nearly 20 years ago, has grown into a passion. The Petersons take their bats all around the Midwest, hoping to educate people on the importance and misnomers of these animals.
“Bats are night creatures so you don’t see them very often,” said Sharon. “In fact, you really shouldn’t see bats other than flying around trees around dusk. Because of that people have a lot of myths about them. People will often say, ‘They’re blind. Aren’t they?’ These particular bats can see as well as an owl can see.
“They believe they are all blood suckers [and] that they’re all rabid [and] that they will attack and get in your hair,” said Dan. “They believe a lot of the Hollywood mythologies so our goal is to educate people on the value.
In our ecosystem, these winged creatures help pollinate trees that grow fruit we enjoy like mangoes and bananas, and eat insects like mosquitos that kill our crops.
“In the U.S. they save us billions in pesticide use,” said Dan. “They keep the pesticides off our foods and keep the food costs down so we need bats. There’s no reason to fear bats. Bats are good.”
But more and more are becoming endangered – a disease called “white nose syndrome”, named for the white fungus that appears on their face, has killed off millions of bats, including many in Illinois, since it was first discovered in 2006.
That’s why it’s important, the Petersons say, not to see these winged animals as a threat should you find them in your home.
“Many times people get into a house and they want to eradicate them,” said Sharon. “They get into a home and I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, I took a tennis racquet to it’ It’s like just open a window and let it out. We’re trying to get people to understand instead of harming them, just release them, let them do their thing and to appreciate them.”
While the Petersons are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to care for their bats, these animals should not be kept as pets, nor should they be fed or handled if found in the wild.
The Petersons also run their own website, incredible bats.com.
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