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November 4, 2016

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bats

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bat-flickr-Flickr-guilherme-jofili
Bats are an incredibly important part of every ecosystem on earth and it can be argued that humanity depends on them quite a lot; and yet they are one of the most hated and stigmatised creatures on the planet.

A lot of the modern fear for bats has to do, I think, with a lack of knowledge about them. It is very rare for us metropolitan dwellers to encounter a bat aside from perhaps seeing them flitting about at dusk, distinctly different from birds only in their frantic flapping and seemingly chaotic flight patterns, and as a result we’ve only met them in popular culture: as the familiars of witches, the alternate form of vampires, creatures who purposefully tangle themselves up in women’s hair, animals who carry the rabies virus and suckle blood from unsuspecting sleeping cows. When we are asked to picture a bat, we see a darkness filled with grimacing and angry creatures with a sinister purpose, not their diversity, nor their need for society and dependence on one another, and certainly not their potential to affect humanity.

I hope that my list of the most amazing facts about bats found in Diane Ackerman’s essay ‘In Praise of Bats is an attempt at demystifying and destigmatising the misunderstood creatures:

1. A colony of bats can consume 150 tonnes, or 150,000kg, of small insects a night. That is a lot of mosquitoes. One has to wonder what the bat populations are like where the Zika virus or malaria are rampant? Hint: Worse than they should be. [Brazil | Africa]

2. Bats live for more than 30 years and are thus the longest-living mammal in relation to their size.

3. Bats only have one pup a year, so you can imagine how long it would take a population to replenish itself after a colony is destroyed. An entire colony can be destroyed in one go by irresponsible or misinformed persons, since millions of these creatures gather together in vulnerability.

4. The Vampire Bat is thought to be monogamous, and the male and female share child-rearing responsibilities. They are also altruistic, doing favours for others; they also remember those who have helped them before so they can return the favour.
Big-eared-townsend-fledermaus-PD-USGov
Big eared townsend bat
5. A single bat will eat so much food in one night that it will weigh 50% more than it did at dusk. The Little Brown Bat in America can eat around 1,000 mosquitoe-sized insects in an hour.

6. There are two types of bats: microbats and megabats. The former are usually echolocators (that is, they trace their food using sonar) and the latter are usually fruit bats. The largest of the megabats can reach a wingspan of 1.7m. The smallest bat, the Kitti's hog-nosed bat (also known as the bumblebee bat), is only a maximum of 170mm in size.

7. A pup's voice is so unique that its mother will hear them in the nursery, often made up of thousands of little bodies.

8. There are some bats that feed on nectar and the plants they harvest their nectar from have evolved specifically so they can be fed on by the bats. Bats are thus important pollinators for species such as bananas, peaches, baobab, guavos, avocados, and organ-pipe cacti.

9. Bats are equipped with the same skill as migrating birds, sometimes flying for miles for winter hibernation. Echolocators can usually only recognise topography within a few metres so this is an amazing skill. Even blind bats can make the journey.

10. Bats have been useful to humankind in many ways: they have aided in the development of vaccines, birth control, navigational aids for the blind, surgery in low temperatures, and artificial insemination techniques. They are also a top fertiliser provider and help keep insect populations down. For a South African example, hundreds of thousands of bats live in the De Hoop Cave and it is thought farmers in the region don't spend as much on insecticides because of their contribution.

Golden crowned fruit bat
As a final statement, I would like to leave you with this quote from Ackerman's essay:
The gray bat went from filling the night skies to having to be officially listed as endangered a few years ago. In the Southwest, the freetailed bat...has declined by as much as 99.9% in some places... How  far does a bat [population] have to decline before it's declared endangered? An even more important question is: How many bats are essential to maintain the balance of nature? [46]
By the time a animal is declared endangered, the ecosystem has already been irreparably damaged and the population is too small to have any major effect.

{Image credits: 
Main: Flickr/guilherme jofili [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Big eared townsend bat: Wikipedia
Golden crowned fruit bat: By The original uploader was Latorilla at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2743619}


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