Have you ever had the chance to see bats flittering in the sky during a warm summer evening? Perhaps, you’ve heard some interesting stories about these nocturnal creatures. But what do you actually know about them?
Bats are fascinating and mysterious. They’re one of the most misunderstood creatures on our planet. Did you know that over 40 species of bats live in the US? They come in various shapes and sizes, but they all have something in common. They’re an irreplaceable part of our ecosystem. Let’s delve into some fascinating facts about these mammals!
Facts About Bats: Even Baby Bats Have Superpowers
Did you know bats are capable of echolocation? They emit high-pitched sounds that bounce off objects. That’s how they perceive their surroundings. It makes them capable of flying around in the dark without crashing into walls. This superpower is essential for catching their prey. It gives them a big advantage over other predators. Some species can even pick up on sounds as quiet as a cricket’s footsteps!
Unfortunately, we can’t hear what they’re doing. Not at all. You can visit the world’s largest bat colony in San Antonio, and you still wouldn’t be able to hear their echolocation skills at work. Our ears just aren’t made for it. Those bats can do something we’ll never be able to do. If the game was “find something in the dark”, a bat would beat you every time.
Where’s the world’s largest bat colony?
Bracken Cave Preserve is just north of San Antonio, Texas. It’s home to the world’s largest colony of bats. Mexican free-tailed bats hibernate and live in Bracken Cave. Bat Conservation International is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting all bat species. They purchased Bracken Cave in 1991. It houses more than 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats. That’s a lot of bats!
Facts About Bats: Bats Worldwide Are Pollination Champions
You may know bees and butterflies are important pollinators. But bat species also pollinate some of our most essential crops. In fact, some of the most expensive spices in the world, like vanilla and chocolate, rely on bats for their life cycle. They also pollinate the agave plant, which is used to make tequila!
Bats pollinate some of our favorite fruits.
The USDA tells us that the Mexican long-nose bat is a great pollinator for flowers that only open at night. These nectar feeding bats end up cross-pollinating:
Mexican long-nose bats will fly many miles to gather nectar from specific plants. That’s dedication!
Facts About Bats: They Moonlight As Flying Ninjas
Bats are notorious for their flying acrobatics and agility. Their hand-wing appendages are responsive and flexible. So they can make incredibly sharp turns. They swoop to catch their prey on the go. They’re also capable of some incredible feats of endurance. Often flying for miles in search of food.
Bat Fact: Hibernation Is Key To Survival
Bats are well known for hibernating during winter months when the weather is unfavorable. During this time, some species might hibernate for months on end. Bats can lower their body temperature and metabolism to an alarmingly low level. They survive much longer without food than would be possible for other mammals. Some species can slow down so much that they take just one breath every ten minutes.
Rock crevices and caves are critical to a bat’s ability to survive hibernation. Caves don’t get as cold as the outside world, so these mammals can survive the winter with fewer losses. Unfortunately, nesting together in caves is bad for disease control. If just one bat is ill, it can spread throughout the entire colony while they hibernate. Current bat disease concerns include white-nose syndrome and the rabies virus. Rabies unfortunately spreads easily in bats.
Bat Fact: Bats Are A Keystone Species
A keystone species is an organism that is really important. Without a keystone species, the surrounding plant and animal species will suffer. Bats are keystone species. They stabilize the food chain that supports many other species. Bats are keystone species because they:
- Help control insect populations
- Are the only pollinators of some plant species
- Are important vectors of disease (e.g., rabies)
- Are food for other predators (cats, owls, hawks)
Some of these roles may feel uncomfortable for humans. But they’re important for ecosystems and other species’ survival.
Fact: Most Bats Are Facing Many Threats
Unfortunately, many bat populations are declining due to human interference. White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that disrupts their metabolism. It’s responsible for a massive die-off. Habitat destruction, wind turbines, and poisoning are other factors that contribute to their decline. More than 200 bat species are “threatened” according to Bat Conservation International.
In the US, common threats to bats include:
- deforestation, forest disturbance, and forest degradation. Habitat loss can lead to loss of food and loss of roosting areas. The biomass and wood products industry is often to blame.
- white-nose syndrome. This disease is sometimes spread by humans going into caves looking for bats. It’s a major threat to all bat species.
- wind turbines. Wind turbines are essential to renewable energy goals,. Sadly, they’re also dangerous to bats.
- poisoning. Because bats are often so small, exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and poisons can be deadly. Try to avoid using poisons in your yard. Ask your local government to reduce or eliminate chemicals that can have unintended consequences.
Final Bat Fact: They’re Not All Vampires
Finally, most of us may be most familiar with vampire bats. But the majority of bat species don’t feed on the blood of other animals. Most eat insects like moths, beetles, and mosquitoes. Some eat nectar. There are even fruit-eating bats. Plus, vampire bats don’t even live in the United States! Their natural habitats are in Mexico and farther South.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bats
Here are some frequently asked questions about bats.
How can I attract bats?
You can put a bat house (“bat box”) outside. You can provide bat-pollinating flowers (listed above: figs, dates, mangoes, etc.). Both are great ways to attract bats. Remember: Don’t handle bats. They can spread rabies.
Help! There’s a bat inside my house!
First, stay calm. Remove any children or pets from the area. Was there a chance that humans or animals made contact with the bat? Be sure to seek a doctor or veterinarian’s advice on how to keep everyone healthy.
Next, call a wildlife service. They’ll be able to safely remove the bat. They have proper protection gear. They have often already received some protection from rabies.
I think I found an injured bat. How do I help it?
You can visit Bat Conservation International’s guide to injured bats to find someone who can rehabilitate an injured bat.
What are bat droppings called?
Bat droppings are commonly known as guano. Guano is used as a high-grade fertilizer. It’s collected in some parts of the world.
What are flying foxes?
Flying foxes are large, adorable bats. They get the name because their faces look like fox faces! Isn’t it cool how similar mammals can be? Flying foxes don’t live in the US. But you can usually find one at your local zoo.
What is white-nose syndrome?
White-nose syndrome is a devastating disease that affects bats. It’s caused by a fungus. It’s led to the loss of millions of bats in North America. There are efforts to protect bats from this deadly disease, though. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is working to reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome.
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