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No, bats don't vant to drink your blood

October 30, 2008|Elina Shatkin
  • Young visitors try on a pair of faux bat ears, one of the many interactive portions of Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats, an exhibit at the Discovery Science Center that brings the mysteries surrounding bats out of the dark.
Young visitors try on a pair of faux bat ears, one of the many interactive… (Discovery Science Center )

Bats, that staple of horror movies and haunted houses this time of year, have a hold on popular imagination as winged killers and bloodsucking beasts. But the truth is more intriguing, if somewhat tamer.

Divided into two groups based on their size, these flying mammals consist of roughly 1,000 species. Of these, only three thrive on blood, and they find pigs and cows much tastier than humans. "Occasionally, a bat might work its way into a house where someone is sleeping and bite them, but humans are not their No. 1 choice," says Janet Yamaguchi, vice president of education at the Discovery Science Center, which is hosting the show "Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats."

After focusing past Halloween-themed programs on Frankenstein and werewolves, the Santa Ana museum moved away from the legendary toward the literal. Most of the interactive exhibition highlights facts and misconceptions about bats. It also has a few holiday-appropriate twists through Sunday, including a spooky 3-D maze.

Contrary to popular belief, most bats are small; the largest known species is the giant golden crowned flying fox, which can attain a 5-foot-6 wingspan. And bats aren't blind, though sight isn't their primary mode of navigation -- instead, it's sound. "Unlike humans, bats have directional hearing that allows them to pinpoint very minute sounds," Yamaguchi says, adding that the show has a station where one can experience sound via a giant set of faux bat ears.

Bats are also ecologically and scientifically important. They help pollinate plants, and the saliva of vampire bats is being studied to see if it can prevent clots in heart patients.

"People often call them rats with wings. Nothing could be further from the truth," Yamaguchi says. "Bats have incredible benefits to our society. . . . They're just one of those misunderstood creatures."

Shatkin is a Times staff writer.

elina.shatkin@latimes.com

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'Masters of the Night'

Where: Discovery Science Center, 2500 N. Main St., Santa Ana

Ends: Jan. 4

Price: $12.95 for adults, $9.95 for children ages 3 to 17, free for ages 2 and younger

Contact: (714) 542-2823, www.discoverycube.org

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