Author: NCWRC blogger/Thursday, October 25, 2018/Categories: Blog, Conservation, Education, Wildlife Watching
Bats. Snakes. Crows & Ravens. Black cats.
What do these animals have in common? Like witches, warlocks and goblins, they are “scary” animals most often associated with Halloween. However, they are anything but scary. In fact, they are quite beneficial — not only to the environment but to humans as well, and the world would be a much scarier place without them. Let’s take a closer look at these animals and some of their benefits.
Bats are often seen as creepy, but the scariest thing about them is massive population losses from white-nose syndrome over the past decade. While Halloween mythos likes to invoke vampire bats, the species we have in North Carolina are much more likely to eat the things that want to drink our blood —mosquitos! In fact, all bat species that reside in North Carolina are insectivorous, consuming a vast number of insects each night. Their “bug eating” expertise helps farmers by removing crop-damaging insects, thus reducing the need for pesticides. In other parts of the world, bats serve as important pollinators for fruits that humans consume every day, such as bananas, agave plants and mangos. Still others serve as seed-dispersers for a wide variety of plants, from avocados to cashews.
Consider attracting real bats to your property instead of decorating with fake ones by installing bat boxes. Keep them out of the attic by repairing any damage to your home exterior that could let critters get inside. Visit batcon.org to download free bat-house building plans and learn more about these ecologically important mammals.
Crows and ravens
Crows and ravens (pictured above) are some of the smartest birds around, which may explain part of their “creep” factor. They’re highly social, recognizing each other and individual people to a remarkable degree. They are even known to use simple tools. While these all-black birds look similar to one another, ravens are noticeably larger with a wingspan around 46 inches — similar to a small hawk. Crows have a wingspan up to 40 inches, similar to a pigeon. Another difference? In North Carolina, ravens are found only in the mountains, whereas crows are found statewide. Both ravens and crows can be considered Mother Nature’s clean-up crew since they eat a vast array of foods, including carrion (dead animals) and garbage, as well as rodents and insects — many of which are agricultural pests.
Snakes are another classic example of misunderstood or creepy wildlife. They are often portrayed as aggressive, slimy, and considered a classic ingredient in witches’ potions. In reality though, this couldn’t be farther from the truth—at least as far as the attitude and sliminess goes! Snakes are very non-confrontational and are definitely not slimy to the touch. A common species that stands out as being particularly festive for Halloween is the ring-necked snake. The ring-necked snake is a small species that rarely exceeds 10 inches in length. It eats primarily earthworms and is known for the characteristic shiny orange and black coloration. Another fall favorite is the corn snake, which can vary in color from red to orange to brown, just like fall leaves. Many people think they get their name from being found in corn fields or corn cribs, but they are actually named as such because their belly scales resemble a popular fall decoration—Indian Corn. In general snakes are great at controlling rodent populations but are best left undisturbed and admired from a safe distance when found.
If you’re worried about coming across big black cats out there in the wild, fear not. “Black panthers” in the real world are either rare melanistic leopards (found in Africa) or melanistic jaguars (found in South America). There has never been any verifiable evidence of an actual wild “black panther” in North Carolina, and sightings always turn out to be cases of mistaken identity—black bears, black dogs, black coyotes, and most often, just regular domestic black house cats.
North Carolina is home to only one “wild cat” species, and that is the bobcat.
If you want to keep Halloween safe for wildlife, consider the following recommendations:
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