BATS Throughout history, people have considered bats to be dangerous and frightful creatures of the night. As such, bats have endured centuries of unjustified abuse. While most medieval superstitions about bats have perished, some misconceptions surrounding these animals persist today. Bats continue to appear as villains in motion pictures and children's cartoons. Despite studies that give evidence to the contrary, they are still frequently miscast as carriers of disease, such as rabies. On average, only one person per year dies from rabid bat bites in the United States, far fewer than die from dog bites or bee stings. However, studies published in 2005 suggested that fruit bats may carry the deadly Ebola virus in Africa and a horseshoe bat may be a host for the SARS virus in Asia. CATS The ancient Egyptians may have been breeding tame cats over 4,000 years ago. Cats became objects of worship in ancient Egypt because of their ability to keep down the rodent population in the country's economically important grain fields along the Nile. The Egyptian cat goddess Bast, or Bastet, became associated with fertility and childbearing. Egyptian cats were also used for sport by their owners. Attached to leashes, these animals hunted birds for the family table; a boomerang flung by the master brought the birds down and the cats, unleashed, would retrieve them. Because they were economically useful and were believed to ensure many children for a family, cats were so revered that they were mummified and buried either with their owners or in specially designated cemeteries. OWLS Owls have long held a special fascination because of their mysterious habits and distinctive appearance. The owl is often used to symbolize wisdom, an image that dates back to ancient Greece. The owl was associated with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Other cultures, however, have seen the owl as more sinister—a symbol of death and darkness. The ancient Romans considered the owl a bad omen, a sign that some misfortune would happen. Owls have also been associated with magic and sorcery. WERWOLVES Werewolf (Old English werewulf,”man-wolf”), according to an ancient superstition, a man who is transformed, or who transforms himself, into a wolf in nature and appearance. The werewolf, sometimes transformed under the influence of a full moon, roams about at night, devouring infants or corpses. Stories of such transformations are given in the works of several classical writers and the superstition was common throughout Europe in late medieval times, when many men were accused and convicted of being werewolves. The term lycanthropy refers to the delusion that one has become a wolf.
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