As my favorite holiday approaches, it’s just natural to have certain iconic images, such as monsters, witches, beasts, and nature’s nocturnal creepers, crawlers, and fliers pop into our thoughts. One such denizen of the night is the BAT! Let’s take a moment to learn some well-known and not-so-well-known facts about these amazing mammals.
Bats alone stand out against all other mammals due to the fact that they are the only flying mammal! Their sizes range from that of a bee to the size of a small dog. There are over 1,200 species of bat. The larger bats, such as the Flying Foxes, have wingspans that can reach up to a little over 6 feet, 6 inches and can weigh up to a little over 3 pounds. Bumblebee Bats, on the other hand, only way about 0.004 pounds!
Some bats only eat insects (like those found in the UK), but others also eat fruit, flower nectar, pollen, fish, frogs, other bats, and even blood! There IS a species of bat whose adult diet is entirely comprised of blood (hematophagy) and is named the Vampire Bat. This type of bat can be found in Mexico and Central and South America. Though they have been known to feed off of the blood of humans, they do not take enough to harm in that way. However, Vampire Bats can cause infections and disease. They have very few teeth since their diet is not made up of solids. Also, their primary blood sources are that of sleeping horses and cattle.
Although it is sometimes suggested that bats are blind, aside from complications in their biology or from certain conditions, this is not true. They have different vision since their hunting usually takes place at night and their vision can help them to see in places humans may consider to be “pitch black.” Some bats, however, do rely, even though they can see, on echolocation, the ability to locate objects by reflecting sound. Dolphins are also known for this.
Another association with bats is with rabies. This is found to be true. As of 2019, WebMD relayed info from the CDC stating that bats are responsible for 7 out of 10 rabies deaths. They go on to say how unusual this is given that bats account for only a third of 5,000 rabid animal reported each year nation-wide. The reason for this could be that many people still don’t realize that bats pose a rabies risk, so they don’t seek the vaccine or antiviral medications after being scratched or bitten. So, always
play it safe and seek medical attention immediately in case of potential or known exposure.
That being sad, bats are also very crucial to our planet in general! Many bats eat numerous insects. These include mosquito’s and insects that damage and eat many things that farmers grow, such as tomatoes, coffee, cucumbers, beans, corn, pecans, almonds, and cotton. Bats are also pollinators. Those that consume nectar pollinate flowers by moving pollen from one flower to another, like bees! They are known to pollinate over 700 plants, some of these provide medicine and food for us. Bats also promote plant growth through seed dispersal, like birds do! After they eat fruit, for example, they excrete the seeds and a new plant can grow. Bat guano is also beneficial for gardens as they provide healthful fertilizer for plants, is a natural fungicide, and can be used to activate and speed up the decomposition process in compost.
Another amazing fact about bats is that the saliva of Vampire bats is a natural coagulant! It is termed Draculin. In nature, it functions to keep the blood from a particular Vampire bat’s prey from coagulating while they are drinking it.
Sadly, there are a number of species of bat that are endangered. Among them are the Little Brown Bat species which can be found in Canada, North America (including Maryland), and Mexico. Their population has decreased by 90% because of a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome which causes bats to wake prematurely from their hibernation; this causes them to, in turn, deplete their vital fat reserves.
One way to promote the bat population is to build bat houses. Charlotte’s Quest has some installed throughout Pine Valley Park and we are planning on building many more! Keep and eye out for a possible bat house building workshop event! In the meantime, if you would like to learn how to build your own bat house(s) that you can install at your own residence, go to www.batcon.org for more information. Bat Conservation International’s website can also provide you with other ways to help our night-time fliers!
If you would like to learn more about Bats, Charlotte’s Quest Nature Center is hosting a First Friday Fire member’s only event themed around Spiders and Bats on Friday, October 1st @ 7pm. I hope to see you there! Thank you for reading and Happy Halloween!!!