It’s that time of year again to tell spooky tales, grab some Halloween treats and sit around the bonfire to ward off creepy critters like spiders and bats.
I will be the first to admit that I am not a big fan of either one. As I get older though, I have adjusted my thinking about these much-maligned creatures.
Let’s face it, spiders and bats are classic Halloween animals. It’s been this way forever. They are cloaked in mystery and dread thanks to their highly developed predatory habits and penchant for dark places and nocturnal forays.
Of course, first-hand experience can also reinforce stereotypes of these creatures. Take bats for example. When we first moved into our old house over 30 years ago, it was full of bats in the attic. I wouldn’t go up there even in the daytime. After three visits, the exterminators finally moved them on their way. At the time, I didn’t even think about how beneficial they were. I just wanted them out of the house forever.
Fast forward a few years. Our next bat encounter was no less entertaining. Naturally it was night time and our cat, CB, kept cocking his head back and forth while he sat on our bed. It was as if he was listening to something. It wasn’t long before we found out what it was.
The next thing we knew, a bat was flopping around on the floor. Holy Nightmare (fans of Batman will know where that came from)! My husband grabbed a towel, threw it on the bat, and flew out the door with it. Needless to say, when I look back on this little adventure, it was not the smartest move on his part (he should have had gloves on but who thinks about that when the adrenaline is pumping). All’s well that ends well and the cat certainly earned his supper that night.
Then there was the bat in a box incident. A few years ago, I was doing my annual fall cleaning of the bluebird boxes on our property. Mind you, this is in the middle of a bright sunny day. As I opened up the last of nine boxes, a bat flew out.
It scared the bejeebers out of me!
According to a Maryland DNR friend of mine, the bat was probably a juvenile male who had been kicked out of his group and was fending for himself. While I often expect to find mice, flying squirrels and wasps sharing the bluebird boxes, bats never crossed my mind. Now I know better.
Then we have the spiders. Lots of them. They’re like people. When it gets cold, they want to find a nice warm cozy place to lay down their heads and close their eight eyes (wait a minute, they can’t close their eyes and they have no eyelids, so forget that). Actually, they just slow down their metabolism at night.
No sleep for the weary (or should I say wary) spider!
My personal favorites are the big fuzzy wolf spiders and the orb- weavers. It seems every time we bring in a load of firewood, a wolf spider comes with it. This leads to a Halloween type scream and scramble to get it out of the house. Over the years, I’ve become a bit better at actually trapping them and taking them outside. Occasionally I do have relapses though depending on how big they are (if they don’t fit in a big plastic cup they probably end up in spider heaven).
Orb-weavers are those colorful guys hired by the Halloween spirits to decorate your house the natural way. Who needs fake spider webs when you have orb-weavers to do the job for you? This time of year they are still surprisingly busy catching bugs, especially on our porch posts and railings. Marbled orb-weavers have great Halloween colors, too, like red, black and white legs and black and yellow bodies.
By the way, the “orb” in orb-weavers is for the circle-like webs they weave, which can be quite beautiful and as wide as two feet across.
Now that I’ve written so lovingly of these creepy creatures, it’s time to get serious and extol their many virtues. You don’t have to be best buds with these guys, but just like people, a little bit of respect and tolerance goes a long way in making their world and ours better place.
Bats are a perfect example. Did you know that bats can eat 6,000 to 8,000 mosquitoes every night throughout the summer season? They also eat stink bugs (always a bonus) and moths. They save the agricultural industry over $3 billion dollars a year with their natural pest control.
In Maryland, we have 10 species of bats including Little Brown bats and Big Brown bats.
All are considered species of greatest conservation need mainly because of a devastating fungal disease called white nose syndrome. It is estimated that over 5.7 million bats in the eastern U.S. have died because of this disease.
To help bats recover, consider building houses for them (it’s better than having them live in your house). You can find plans on line at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources web site.
As creepy as they are with all their eyes and legs, spiders are great pest control conquerors of less desirable bugs, too.
There are eight common spider groups in Maryland. All can bite, but only the Black Widow spider carries venom that can be dangerous to humans.
As with any wild animal, education goes a long way in living in harmony with these more unusual friends. Bats do carry diseases such as rabies (the CDC reports very low rates at only 6 percent of those tested for the disease) and histoplasmosis, a respiratory fungal disease caused by both bird and bat droppings.
If you take the necessary precautions to reduce your exposure to these diseases, simple math tells you that the rewards of having bats far outweigh the risks.
The same is true for spiders. Though it took me years to get up the courage to catch and release spiders inhabiting our house, I know they return the favor by eating all kinds of really bad bugs.
On this Halloween, don’t be scared, be smart! Stop watching the creepy movies and reading Dracula.