Decorating for Halloween often means hanging fake cobwebs, cutting out scary bat shapes and spreading fake bugs, snakes and rats about the house. When we think of Halloween there are certain animals we associate with the spooky holiday—but what if these animals are just misunderstood?

Often our mistrust and disgust with the following creatures is simply due to our instincts that were instilled during the times of hunting and gathering, making us uncomfortable near animals and insects that may be venomous or dangerous. [1]

In honor of the spookiest season—October—we’re busting some myths surrounding traditionally “scary” creatures that deserve a smile just as much as any other cute creature.

Images via Field Trips Flickr

Myth 1: Bats want to drink your blood.

Bats are very misunderstood mammals that are a crucial part of Wisconsin’s ecosystem and wildlife. Bats eat a lot of pests that affect farmers’ crops as well as affect human’s well-being—helping to lower the spread of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses. [2]

There are over 1,200 species of bats in the world, with only eight of those species being found in Wisconsin. [3] All of Wisconsin’s bats are insectivorous, meaning they eat only insects and NOT blood. Additionally, these eight are evening bats, meaning they come out during darker hours.

Bats are threatened.

All four species of cave bats in Wisconsin are state or federally threatened, and the four migrant tree bats are closely monitored to track population numbers.  A large part of this is due to our misconceptions of bats as dirty, diseased and dangerous. The maltreatment and violence towards bats that appear in homes or buildings had wiped many out.

However, the single largest factor in rapid, significant bat decline is a disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS), which has caused up to 100% losses in some populations. WNS has caused the most significant decline of North American wildlife in recorded history

Additionally, bats face habitat loss and degradation, wind turbine related deaths, pesticide usage killing their food supply and disturbances during hibernation. [4]

How you can help.

There are several things the average Wisconsinite can do to protect bats:

Images via Field Trips Flickr

Myth 2: Owls are spooky.

You know the scene: a spooky leaf-less tree branch creaks and shakes as the autumn wind howls. In the distance an owl screeches and lands in the tree, casting an eerie shadow lit by the full moon in back. While it may seem as if this moment has happened in almost every scary movie before something bad happens—the reality is that humans have no need to fear owls.

Owls have cool physical adaptations.

Wisconsin is home to 11 known species of owls: the Great Horned, Barn, Barred, Long-eared, Short-eared, Northern Saw-whet and Eastern-Screech Owls. [5] The Snowy, Northern Hawk, Great Gray and Boreal species of owls are visiting Wisconsin during the wintertime more and more due to “irruption” events caused by predator-prey interactions in their typical northern habitat. [6]

Owls’ ability to stick around for the winter is due to a few cool physical adaptations. First, their feet are covered with feathers that go all the way to the ends of their toes, keeping their feet nice and cozy during the chilliest time of the year. Second, owls have special body feathers that are extra-long to keep in extra heat. Their down coats and big wings keep them insulated against snow, rain and freezing winds. [7]

How you can help

Owls in Wisconsin face the perils of habitat loss and destruction as well as violence from farmers and humans looking to remove them from barns and garages, among other dangers. To help protect owls there are a few things you can do:

Images via Field Trips Flickr

Myth 3: All Wisconsin snakes are venomous.

While the fear of snakes is understandable, there has only been one rattlesnake-related death in Wisconsin since 1900, making them significantly less dangerous than the white-tailed deer, which causes over 20,000 vehicle crashes annually. [8]

Wisconsin has 21 types of snakes, 19 being non-venomous and two being venomous, 14 of which are rare and listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern. [9] The two venomous species—the Timber rattlesnake and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake—live in very specific habitats in western Wisconsin and are endangered or of special concern, making an encounter with them very rare.

All snakes are cold-blooded—unlike mammals they do not rely on cellular metabolism to maintain their internal temperature, instead obtaining heat from external sources like the sun. Snakes are covered in scales that work as a sort of reverse raincoat—keeping water from leaving their body, preventing them from dehydrating. [10]

Snakes fear you.

Snakes are another supporter of Wisconsin’s agricultural community, reducing disease threats posed by rodents and keeping grain eating mammal populations low.

Like bats, fear of snakes has left them persecuted and under-appreciated for many years. Snakes do not strike unless provoked, rather using their defensive posture as a highly effective bluff. So, while it is possible to be bitten by a snake, they would much rather slither away to safety than fight, making avoidance of snakes the best protection. [11]

While avoidance is the best way, there are some ways you can tell the difference between a venomous and non-venomous snake: pupil shape, presence of a rattle and shape of the head. Stay away from snakes with elliptical pupils, rattles and triangular or arrow-shaped, wide heads. [12]

How you can help

There are several ways to help protect snakes in Wisconsin:

Don’t be afraid when you see one of these creatures this fall! Instead, remember all the things they do for you, and all the things you can do for them.
Written by Katie Herrick, Communications Assistant.

Bluffs to Great Lakes Shores Campaign Match Challenge Met

We are thrilled to announce that thanks to the incredible response from our members, along with a generous gift from Foundation board member Michael Williamson and his wife Mary Ann Doll, the $5,000 Campaign challenge issued by Foundation member Robin Buerki and Foundation co-founder Ron Semmann and his wife Ann Semmann, has been met!

14 Things We ❤️ About Wisconsin

To celebrate Valentine’s Day we have compiled a list of 14 things we love about our valentine—Wisconsin.

Exploring Best Practices in Conservation Planning

As NRF continues to focus on our impact on Wisconsin’s lands, waters, and wildlife, we are exploring resources that focus on evidence-based practices, evaluation, measuring and monitoring, and best practices utilized by peer conservation organizations across the globe.

Welcome to the Foundation, Sarah!

As we look forward to the next chapter, we are thrilled to welcome our new Birdathon Coordinator, Sarah Cameron!

GO Fund Grants Awarded: September 2019

The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin has awarded a total of $5,645 to 15 schools through the Go Outside Fund (GO Fund).

How to support your favorite cause without spending a dime

The holidays are a wonderful time of giving and sharing, but sometimes it can be hard to do everything we want within our budgets. The following are seven ways you can support your favorite non-profit cause just by opening your heart (and not your wallet!).

CD Besadny Conservation Fund Awardees 2019

Every year the CD Besadny Conservation Fund awards grants to new and original projects that involve and affect underserved communities, take advantage of local resources and partnerships, and demonstrate real outcomes.

Piping plovers return to Green Bay

I recently had the opportunity to visit one of the projects we support through our Bird Protection Fund: the banding of federally endangered piping plover chicks near Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The Dells: An Upham Woods Perspective on Place and Legacy

Founded in 1941, the Upham Woods Learning Center is an unique “river classroom” located on the Wisconsin River. From summer camps to leadership workshops, it’s a great place to learn and while exploring nature

Wild Alaska

Discover Alaska, a rugged, mysterious, and breathtaking experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. From glaciers that seem to reach the clouds to the big game wildlife that makes Alaska the epic wilderness it is, you will be mesmerized by its untouched landscape.

Bats & Owls & Snakes, Oh My!

In honor of the spookiest season—October—we’re busting some myths surrounding traditionally “scary” creatures that deserve a snuggle just as much as any other cute creature.