Creepy blood-sucking creatures that terrorize their victims from overhead — it’s a wildly fictional storyline from countless Hollywood horror films that depict bats as dirty flying demons.
Myths about bats have created needless fears about these critters, and many of those fears are perpetuated around this time of year, as people often use plush bat decorations to get a scare out of their guests at Halloween.
But in reality, bats are nothing to be feared. In fact, these furry friends are vital to ecosystems around the world, and chances are that you can thank bats for many of your favorite foods, beverages and even medicines! That's why we're bonkers for bats!
Bats get a bad rep from the countless vampire stories that have been circulating for centuries. But of the more than 1,200 bat species, there are only three species of vampire bats and almost all of them live in Latin and South America. And even those don’t hunt humans. Instead, they prefer to prefer small animals.
The majority of bat species, including those found in Indiana, prefer a feast of fruits, nectar, pollen or insects. Bats are the bug zappers of the mammal world and help protect farmers’ crops from harmful pests. A single bat can eat several thousand insects in one night!
Despite their poor eyesight, bats can accomplish their prolific pest control using a technique called echolocation. Using this bio-sonar, bats emit sound waves through beeps and clicks that bounce off of objects and back to them. This helps them find the things they want, like insects, and avoid the rest.
Fruit bats also play a big role in agriculture. They spread seeds through their droppings and carry pollen in their fur that helps to pollinate other plants. From cotton to cacao (chocolate), peaches to papayas, and even tequila — bats help bring us more than 450 commercial products and 80 medicines! They’re also helping to keep rainforests lush and beautiful, by spreading seeds that provide for about 95 percent of forest re-growth.
Contrary to the myth about bats being dirty or carrying diseases, they are extremely clean creatures, and spend a lot of time grooming their fur.
Bats make up about one-fifth of all mammal species in the world, and they range in size from the tiny bumblebee bat which is the world’s smallest mammal to giant flying foxes with a 6-foot wing span!
Many of these bat populations are in decline because of habitat loss and threats from humans. But you can help these incredible creatures by building a bat house in your backyard.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has identified 13 bats species that are native to Indiana. The most common species are the big brown bat, red bat, little brown bat and eastern pipesterelle. Some of Indiana’s bats choose to live in forests, where they roost in large trees, others live in cave colonies, and still others make their homes in buildings, whether abandoned warehouse in an urban setting or old barns in rural areas.
The Indianapolis Zoo is also home to two species of bats, the African straw-colored fruit bat and the island flying fox. Because all bat species are nocturnal, Zoo guests can often find our bats asleep inside their exhibit in Forests. But because the Zoo is open late during ZooBoo and Christmas at the Zoo, it’s the perfect time of year to see how active and amazing these animals really are!
Photos By Kerrie Best, Fred Cate and Lubee Bat Conservatory