One of the bat's natural predators is the Hollywood film industry. The

movie Bats, a recent release, portrays a fictional Texas town

attacked by mutant bats that have been engineered by a local scientist to

drink human blood.

Gary McCracken, professor in the UT department of ecology and evolutionary

biology, said the negative myths about bats exploited by Hollywood may make

preserving them more difficult.

"The negative perceptions that people traditionally carry are one of bats'

chief threats," said McCracken. "This is a horror movie that exploits the

public's lack of knowledge about the creatures."

Many of the 1,000 species of bats worldwide are threatened or endangered,

he said, and bat populations are in decline.

"There is no such thing as a vampire bat. The movie distributor is just

building hype. They know it's a low-grade movie," said McCracken, after

viewing the Web site promoting the movie.

The agricultural industry has a vested interest in preserving the bats.

McCracken recently attended a conference on bats in western Mexico. Some

bat species are responsible for pollinating the agave cactus which is used

to make tequila. The tequila industry is concerned with the decline of

these bat species.

The decline in bat population in central Texas and northern Mexico

threatens corn, cotton and tomato crops. Bats in these areas are

responsible for eating billions of corn ear worms, also known as the cotton

ball worm, each year. These worms are some of the most destructive

agricultural pests in the United States, McCracken said.

Unnecessary fear of the mammals translates into outright destruction of the

roosts when people find them, McCracken said.

"Bats are killed even when they offer nothing but benefits to humans," he

said.

McCracken has been researching bat colonies in south central Texas since

1981. He is also the author of the entry on bats in the Encyclopedia of

American Folklore and Superstition and has written extensively on bats and

bat lore. He said that most of the myths about bats are the product of lack

of knowledge.

McCracken serves on the advisory board of Bat Conservation International,

an organization devoted to preserving the mammals. He recommends contacting

the organization in Austin, Texas, at http://www.batcon.org/ or

(512)327-9721 for information about the preservation of bats and their

beneficial economic and ecological effects.