The timing is right to put your mind on bats. The United Nations (UNEP) has declared 2012 as International Year of the Bat in recognition of the essential role that bats play in ecologies and human economies. And, it’s Halloween time, when bats become prominent is their role as not-so-scary animals, along with spiders and owls, associated with this popular holiday.
Why is it important to think about bats? According to Dr. Merlin Tuttle, Honorary Chairman of the Year of the Bat Campaign, “Simply because they are active only at night and difficult to observe and understand bats rank among our planet’s most misunderstood and intensely persecuted mammals. Those that eat insects are primary predators of the vast numbers of insects that fly at night, including ones that cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars in losses annually. As such bats decline, demands for dangerous pesticides grow, as does the cost of growing crops like rice, corn and cotton.
Fruit and nectar-eating bats are equally important in maintaining whole ecosystems of plant life. In fact, their seed dispersal and pollination services are crucial to the regeneration of rain forests which are the lungs and rainmakers of our planet.
Many of the plants which depend on such bats are additionally of great economic value, their products ranging from timber and tequila to fruits, spices, nuts and even natural pesticides.”
Scary media stories notwithstanding, bats are remarkably safe allies for humans, doing their vital tasks of pollination and insect control and presenting virtually no danger to people. It’s time to explode the myths about bats!
- There are more than a thousand species of bats – about one-fifth of all mammal species – and their variety is incredible. They range from the world's smallest mammal, the tiny bumblebee bat that weighs less than a penny, to giant flying foxes with six-foot wingspans.
- Except for the most extreme desert and polar regions, bats have lived in almost every habitat on Earth since the age of the dinosaurs.
- Think bats are creepy? Think again. If you like bananas, cashews, cotton t-shirts, pickles, cucumbers, peaches or (if you're over 21) tequila? If so, you should thank a bat. From pest control to pollination, bats world-wide are incredibly important to people and nature.
- Think bats are creepy? Think again. As insect-eating machines, bats save farmers billions (with a B) of dollars annually. Did you know a single little brown bat can eat more than 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in just one hour?
- Think bats are scary? Far from it. Probably the scariest thing about bats in the United States is that they're disappearing. Facing diseases like White-nose Syndrome, wind farms and habitat loss, these bats need our help.
- Bats get a bad rap around Halloween. While there are such things as vampire bats, they don’t prey on humans! This sub-species of bat survives by drinking minute quantities of blood from mammals such as cows.
- There are many reasons to appreciate bats. Did you know they are great mothers? In fact at birth, baby bats weigh approximately 1/4 as much as their mother? That would be like a 120 lb. person giving birth to a 30 lb. baby!
- Bats are not scary or evil, and are in fact vital to people and the environment.
- Did you know bats are the only major predators of night-flying insects and usually eat more than one-half their weight in insects every night?
- Humans are the most dangerous threat to bats. They may eliminate habitat and food sources, as well as altering native ecosystems and reducing the insect populations on which bats feed. Timber companies may harvest trees before a forest can regenerate the mature trees suitable for bat roosts. Even old, uninhabited buildings where some bats live are disappearing. Bats are also being killed by the thousands because of conflicting air space with large wind turbines. Worst of all, sometimes bats are killed deliberately. Centuries of mythology and misunderstanding have led some people to fear bats unnecessarily. In some areas, people have even set fire to bat caves, killing thousands of these valuable animals.
There are basically two kinds of bats – smaller ones with distinctive faces that eat insects and fly at night, and larger ones with fox-like faces and huge wingspans that fly primarily in the daytime and survive on nectar. The large ones are the types of bats we have at the Indianapolis Zoo, which include island flying foxes and straw-colored fruit bats. The fact that bats are really mammals – furry little animals that suckle their young – is made more apparent when people can observe these larger bat specimens and see their fur and large eyes. To see our bats - and get into the fun, not-so-scary, family entertainment side of the holiday, visit the Indianapolis Zoo's Halloween ZooBoo event - it's a hoot!
As Martha would say, bats are a good thing. If you are interested in attracting bats to your yard, there’s a link to plans for building your own bat house.
Brown bat photo by Hugh Clark, Bat Conservation Trust
Straw-colored fruit bat photo by Jackie Curts