Bats are often associated with images of creepy Halloween scenes — represented as blood-sucking vampires and overall dreadful, rabid creatures that emerge from the night.
It’s exactly those stereotypes that Rachael Long, a University of California Cooperative Extension adviser in Yolo County, is hoping to break. In her new children’s book, “Gold Fever,” she depicts bats as the beneficial mammals she has observed them to be.
The appreciation for the oft-misunderstood animals came from Long’s father, a UC Berkeley biology professor. After being introduced to bats at a young age, Long, 52, joined Bat Conservation International and took a field class through the organization in 1992.
She has since published scientific articles documenting the perks of bat populations in agriculture.
“I’ve been studying bats and their benefits to agriculture for more than 20 years now,” Long said. “They have tremendous value on our farms in helping with pest control. They eat a lot of insects — their body weight or more in a night.
“Even with how important bats are, they are so maligned. People are terrified of them. … My interest is with working with kids to teach them of the incredible world of bats, and how neat they really are.”
In “Gold Fever,” Long chronicles the adventure of 9-year-old Jack, who falls into a cave when exploring Nevada’s Black Rock Range. The protagonist befriends a bat named Pinta, who uses natural abilities like echolocation as he helps lead the boy home. Jack and Pinta enlist a friendly coyote pup named Sonny on their quest, and confront a villainous poacher along the way.
Long developed this tale with her now 16-year-old son before deciding to share it in a book.
“I started by telling a story about a little boy, a bat and a coyote when my son was 2,” Long said. “We live on a ranch (in Zamora), and it was always a commute into town. It was to entertain him on that long drive.
“It just got more and more detailed and elaborate, and he really enjoyed it. We kept having to come up with new versions. About five years ago, I actually started write these stories down.”
Long split the narrative into a trilogy, titled the “Black Rock Desert Adventure Series.” The next book in the series, “Valley of the Sun,” has already been written and submitted for review, Long said.
The first book went on sale Tuesday on Amazon.com, and it is also available on the Tate Publishing website. She will be signing copies of “Gold Fever” at Davis’ Common Grounds, 2171 Cowell Blvd., at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22.
All of the proceeds from the trilogy will be used to fund bat conservation programs. One of the beneficiaries, Sacramento-based NorCal Bats, is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating bats.
If America lost its population of bats, the nation could see agricultural losses of more than $3.7 billion per year, according to an analysis published in the journal Science in April 2011.
Long feels a personal responsibility to do all she can to protect the 25 species of bats that live in California, and hopes that her trilogy helps foster a similar stewardship by shattering the animal’s bad reputation.
“I really want to dispel some of the myths,” Long said. “Bats aren’t blind, a majority aren’t rabies carriers and they feed on insects, not blood. … I’m hoping, through the book, kids will think, ‘Hey, bats aren’t so bad.’ ”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052.