PORTLAND Ore. – Think bats are scary? Think again! The Oregon Zoo is working to “rebrand” bats, close to Halloween, in order to encourage people to protect bats.

Zookeeper Kristina McMahon says bats play an important role in the environment by eating insects, pollinating plants and dispersing seeds.

“Over 500 different species of plants rely on bats,” said McMahon. “One for example is the cocoa plant. When you are eating your Halloween chocolate you can thank a bat because we wouldn’t have chocolate without bats!”

At least 15 species of bats call Oregon and Washington home. She hopes people in Oregon want to protect bats, and there are simple steps you can do, to make this happen.

One of the ways you can do so is to build a bat box, and go pesticide-free.

You can also help stop White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that killed millions of bats since it was first documented in 2006. This year, it was detected in the Pacific Northwest. It you like to go hiking, be aware when bats hibernate, and don't disturb them when you see them in caves, and make sure you decontaminate gear and clothes after entering a bat roosting area.

“Usually in the winter that’s when they hibernate in caves or mines,” McMahon said.

Also leave snags, or dead trees behind. They make great bat roosts, and provide habitat for many other animals.

Learn more about what you can do to help, here.