Chiroptera are found globally, made up of around 1,000 to 1,300 species, divided into the sub-groups; megabats and microbats (Richardson, 2002). Mostly arboreal with the ability to fly, their success has allowed them to inhabit isolated islands and cross large expanses of ocean (Richardson, 2000). Often regarded as ecological indicators, pollinators and agricultural pest control (Kunz, Braun de Torrez, Bauer, Lobova & Fleming, 2011). Their ecological importance cannot be underestimated, but unfortunately in media, it often is.
Influence of media
Despite their significance, bats are repeatedly targeted in media, print media being one of the largest sources of negative information on bat species (Jemison, 2017). This is proposed as a likely cause for their global declines, and could indirectly affect their conservation (Knight, 2007).
Perhaps the first misrepresentation of bat species, was Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ (1897). This book was the first recognised ‘vilification’ of bats, portraying them as “dark, evil, bloodsucking monsters” (Lunney & Moon, 2011).
Today, bats are most inaccurately framed when highlighting their negative contribution to pubic health through disease transmission (Rocha, 2017). Work by López-Baucells, Rocha & Fernández-Llamazares, (2017), found that out of 2,441 analysed papers, 51% focused on concern for human health, with 96% failing to mention the ecological importance of bat species. Commonly reported virus’ associated with bats are Rabies (Mayen, 2003) , Nipah virus (Tuttle, 2019), Ebola (Li et al., 2017) and the Coronavirus (Mullin, 2020), some of which are transmitted through bites. Newspaper headlines covering bat ‘attacks’ have used words such as “blood-curdling”, and “terrorised” (Waugh, 2017; Sims & James, 2019), giving the public a fearful association with the nocturnal mammal.
Feeding on humans is a rare occurrence, as hematophagous species normally feed on cattle, and domesticated pets (Matthews, 1995). Below are some interesting bat facts, some of which dispel common misconceptions (Lunney & Moon, 2011; López-Baucells, Rocha & Fernández-Llamazares, 2017).
Only 1% of bats species have rabies.
You’re more likely to get infected by a dog!
Bat species represent 1/4
of all mammalian species
Around 70% of bat species
Negative framing of bats is also present in entertainment media. Horror productions have associated bats with mythical vampires, (Belwood & Morton, 1991) Halloween celebrations (Large,2018) and the supernatural. Film productions such as ‘Bats’ (1999) and ‘Vampire bats’ (2005), portray ‘vampires’ incorrectly, via CGI or using fruit bats to play the role of vampire bat species. This is to elicit fear and suspense, making the bat seem larger and more intimidating (Raabe, 2002). Unfortunately this results in negative associations with the species, (Saikia, 2007) leading to persecution and lack of conservation funding (Hoffmaster, Vonk & Mies, 2016).
Social media is also a potential concern for bat species, perhaps not through misconception but by the sharing of photos to their detriment (Vinson, 2017). Vinson (2017), explains that there are online photos of bats being mistreated, along with captions reading “back to hell where they belong”. This consolidates the effect of media on misrepresented species. Worse still is the potential of social media, to perpetuate misconception with its far-reaching abilities (Di Minin, Tenkanen & Toivonen, 2015; Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011).
Nevertheless, it is crucial that we utilise the power of education to correctly inform younger generations (Altringham, 2011). Instilling accurate ‘myth-free’ knowledge of species will bring positive changes (Hardman, 2010), ensuring bats receive sufficient conservation support guaranteeing their continued survival.
Below are some educational videos with information on bats