Bats! Ooooh, they are scary! Halloween freaky stuff! Vampires that suck your blood. Bats that swoop down and get tangled in your hair!
Bats have been given a bad rap. It started way back with Dracula and mythical vampires in Europe. In the real world, there are no vampire bats in Europe or Asia, though there are some in Central and South America. But those ones only drink animal blood, not human blood.
These myths are part of the problems that have put numerous types on bats on the Endangered Species List.
What Bats Do
Bats do a lot for our environment. First, some hunt insects. A Little Brown Bat can eat 1,200 mosquitoes an hour! Wouldn’t it be nice to have some of them around when you are having a summer evening picnic?
Second, fruit bats help re-seed plants. When they eat fruit, the seeds go right through them and they poop them out, often when they are flying! The seeds are coated with their own fertilizer and grow. Watch out below!
Nectar drinking bats pollinate plants. When they sip on the fruit flower nectar, they spread the pollen, just like bees do in your garden. Over one hundred and fifty types of plants depend on these bats in order to reproduce.
And then you go eeooow! Bat guano, or bat poop is collected from roosts and used as a natural plant fertilizer.
What They Are
There are about 1,000 species of bats. Bats are the only mammals that can fly. Like all mammals, they are “warm-blooded,” have bodies covered with fur, and nurse their young (pups) with milk. There are two main groups of bats – the large “flying foxes” that eat fruit, and the smaller insect-eating bats. There are also bats that feed on the nectar of flowers, and those that eat small animals, like fish and frogs.
Where They Are
Most bats like to live where it is warm and damp. They don’t like cold so they don’t live in Antarctica but they live just about everywhere else in the world.
The place that bats hang out is called a “roost.” They roost in different places at different times of the year. Some places bats like to roost are trees, caves, bridges, barns or even houses! Some bats hibernate in winter. They move into caves and other dark, protected places where they won’t be disturbed. For several weeks in summer, female bats live together in a “maternity roost,” choosing somewhere warm to have their babies. They stay here until their babies are able to fly and feed themselves.
Hanging In There
Could you hang upside down by your toes for hours? When bats roost, or rest, they hang upside down!
Bat feet are designed so that when they attach themselves to a rock, or branch, the toes and claws lock so they can’t fall, even when they are asleep! When they are upside down, all they have to do is unlock their feet, spread their wings and fly away.
How They Fly
Bats don’t need a Batmobile! They get around just fine! Bats have five fingers, just like us. There is a very thin skin, or membrane, stretched between their long finger bones, their arms, legs and tail. As they flap their wings, they control their flight by moving their fingers, which adjusts the membrane between them. They can also hover like hummingbirds.
Have you heard the term, “Blind as a bat?” That’s another misconception, or false story. Most have good eyesight and they use their eyes along with their excellent sense of smell to help find food in the dark. Bats’ eyes are better at seeing in the dark. Most see things only in black and white, but color vision exist in some old world fruit bats.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Bats also use something called echolocation to find food, like insects, and to avoid flying into obstacles. They send out a noise that bounces off things, like insects and walls. When the sound, or echo comes back to the bat, it knows where the object is and what it is, so it can catch it, or fly around it.
Too many bats are on the Endangered Species List . This is partly because people are afraid of them from the vampire stories. So they are being killed off by uneducated people who believe the myths. But there are other reasons, too.
Farmers and gardeners use pesticides to kill the insects that bats need to live. With fewer bugs around, there is less food for insect-eating bats.
Bat habitat is disappearing, so there are fewer places for them to live, and their food is disappearing. For instance, urban sprawl is destroying bat habitat
You Can Help
One way to help the bats is to build a bat house in your yard. Bats are wonderful natural pest controllers.
You can join Bat Conservation International and learn even more about our friends, the bats.