Are you feeling batty? Bat sightings in southern Arizona are increasing with the summer season

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Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 11:25 PM MST|Updated: Aug. 21, 2023 at 7:38 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - It’s not your eyes getting batty, it’s bat season in southern Arizona.

Experts say these creatures are more visible during summer evenings in Tucson. They warn that the potential exposure to rabies and other diseases comes with more bat sightings in the area.

According to Lisa Shipek, the founder of Watershed Management Group, every summer thousands of these Mexican Free-Tailed Bats migrate to southern Arizona seeking shelter in a warmer environment.

“It’s the peak of the bat season. It’s a beautiful time to get out and see them at sunset.”

Every summer, thousands of bats find refuge under bridges throughout Tucson. During this time, people commonly visit Tucson’s Campbell and River Bridge and watch the bats ascend into the night.

“They love this bridge habitat, it’s like a cave in some ways,” Shipek said. “I know there are tens of thousands of bats that reside here.”

Although they might be a nice sight, experts want people to be cautious, especially with the risks some bats can carry.

“It’s just kind of cool because you don’t normally think you’ll find a big bat populating in urban Tucson,” Shipek said.

However, Shipek said this year, the bats are facing major problems. As climate change brings record-high temperatures, vital resources the bats count on, like insects and plants, are becoming more scarce.

Shipek said this is why the Watershed Group meets to teach locals the importance of protecting bats in Southern Arizona.

“They are an important part of our ecosystem. They are pollinators,” Shipek said. “They pollinate at night, they eat insects, I think they really are important to the health of the Sonoran desert.”

It’s not just warmer temperatures causing trouble for the bats but manmade items as well.

Mark Hart with Arizona Game and Fish said if you have a patio fan make sure it’s turned off when not in use.

“We are concerned about hummingbird feeders or nectar feeders,” Hart said. “If folks have a hummingbird feeder on the porch and a ceiling fan, we are asking them to turn that off. We don’t want the bats to be killed by that fan.

Anissa Taylor, an Epidemiologist with Pima County, tells 13 News it’s important to be cautious around bats since Pima County has the most rabid animals in the state.

Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows nine bats have tested positive for rabies this year in the county. The data also shows nine confirmed cases of people being exposed to rabid animals, two happening the week of August 7th and three in July.

Even though these may seem like big numbers, Taylor said they have seen fewer cases this year than last.

“That could pick up during the year. It really just depends on people’s interactions with bats,” Taylor said. “That’s why we try to caution you to stay away from bats. Don’t try to help them or feed them because it could end up harming them and harming yourself.

Kayleigh Murdock with Pima Animal Care Center says it’s important to watch for bats in your yard If you happen to have pets.

According to Murdock, the shelter sees more animals exposed to diseases like rabies at this time of year.

“This time of year we regularly find dogs that have had a bat in their mouth,” Murdock said. “They have been carrying around a bat in their mouth. That’s obviously really concerning in terms of rabies exposure.”

Experts say if you do come in contact with a bat, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. They say while not all bats have rabies, testing is vital to keep both your family and your pets safe.

If you want to learn more about bats, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is having “Bat Night” Saturday, August 19th. They said the event will have educational activities to help people better understand the only flying mammals.

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