At this time of year, bats are more likely to be portrayed as blood-sucking, scary, rabid creatures, when they are actually really useful. They eat a wide variety of bugs, including mosquitoes, and some species actually help pollinate wild varieties of some of our favorite foods like bananas, avocados, peaches and more.

But did you know that there are two species of bats that are currently protected under federal and state endangered species law? Did you also know that when humans disturb bats while they are hibernating it can be harmful and even fatal to them?

New York is home to many caves and old mine sites that can be fun to explore, but during this time of year, bats are hibernating and when those bats are disturbed it can cause significant problems.

According to the New York Department of Environmental Protection, it's believed that disturbing hibernating bats causes them to raise their body temperatures, which depletes their fat reserves. They may not have enough energy to make it through the winter.

There are notices posted at any caves and mines used by hibernating bats, and these should be followed. In fact, anyone entering any of these sites from now until April 30, the typical period of hibernation for bats, may be subject to prosecution.

Head out and explore all the cool spaces and places that New York State has to offer, but remember bats are our friends, so let's keep them safe.