Bats are diverse…
There are about 5,000 species of mammals in the world, and just about 1,200 of those species are bats. Bats are divided into two main groups: megabats (old world fruit bats, “flying foxes”) and microbats (echolocating bats). Although calling them ‘mega’ and ‘micro’ is slightly misleading, because some megabats are small (like long-tongued fruit bats, Macroglossus minimus), and some microbats are large (like spectral bats, Vampyrum spectrum). Bats make up the order of Chiroptera, and the extreme amount of diversity between the bats in that order is mind boggling. I encourage you to just sit and google images of different species of bats, because some look absolutely fake.
Bats are important…
Most of the bat species here in the United States feed on insects. And not just a couple insects, they eat A LOT of insects. A single bat can eat more than 1,000 insects in one night. Not only are they eating pesky bugs that feed on our blood, but they are also eating insects that destroy crops. More bats means less need for pesticides.
In other areas of the world where bats feed on fruit, they help disperse seeds by eating fruit and spitting out the seeds onto the ground (or sometimes pooping them out). These seeds sometimes grow into new trees. Many habitats that these fruit bats live in are experiencing widespread deforestation, so these ecosystems are benefitting greatly by these bats helping new trees get planted.
Everyone knows that bees and butterflies are important because they pollinate flowers. Well, nectar eating bats do the exact same thing. For example, in Mexico bats are one of the prime pollinators for the agave plant. Agave plants are used to make tequila. Tequila is used to make margaritas. So basically without bats, there would be no margaritas and I am not okay with living in that kind of world…SO BATS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT.
Bats are not scary…
Someone started some crazy myth that bats are angry, horrible little creatures that crave human blood and will nest in your hair and suck out your soul. That more accurately describes some of my ex-boyfriends, and definitely NOT bats. Out of the approximately 1,200 species of bats, only 3 of those species drink blood. The hairy-legged vampire bat and the white winged vampire bat both feed on the blood of birds, whereas the common vampire bat does actually drink blood from mammals, but typically its from livestock and its just a tiny little nibble that the animal doesn’t even notice is happening.
Someone also started the rumor that every bat carries rabies, but research actually shows that the incidence of rabies within a bat population is less than 0.5%. So yes, bats are mammals and therefore they can get rabies. But do you know what species is most responsible for giving humans rabies? Dogs.
That being said, rabies is no joke. Don’t go around trying to touch bats.
Actually… just don’t touch wildlife.
Bats are endangered…
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 26 bat species are listed as Critically Endangered, 51 species are Endangered and 954 species are Vulnerable. Thats insane. What is happening to all these bats??! Massive habitat loss still remains to be the main reason why we are losing all these amazing animals. These animals have no where to live, no food to eat, no safe place to take care of their babies. Many of the roosting sites of bats (caves and mines) are being disturbed by inappropriate guano mining or uneducated tourists. When bats and humans mix, many people still kill bats because of their fears. In some countries, bats are hunted for their meat.
But what about our North American bats?
About 10 years ago in North America a seemingly harmless fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) made its way over here from Europe. This cold-loving fungus grows in the bat roosting sites and actually grows on hibernating bats. The species of bat that are being affected by this fungus are true hibernators. That means they store up fat before they hibernate and then they sleep for 4-6 months without waking up (which actually makes me really jealous, I would love to sleep for that long). When a true hibernator is woken up from hibernation, they burn through all those fat stores way too early in the hibernation period and they end up dying. When this fungus grows over the bats it itches them and it irritates them, so they keep waking up when they should be hibernating. The fungus grows over their little faces, giving them the appearance of having white noses, so they aptly named this deadly issue White-Nose Syndrome. Since the first documentation of this disease in New York in 2006 we have lost at least 5.7 million bats.
What makes things worse is that bats have a relatively slow reproduction rate. A mother bat will typically only have one baby once a year and only 10% of bats survive to the age of 1. So bats are dying much faster than they are reproducing.
So that leads me to the fact that:
Bats need our help…
With almost all of the species of bats being threatened in some sort of way, we need to try to help them. I have spent time volunteering at the Organization for Bat Conservation, and the work they do to help bats world wide is amazing (give them your money, people!). I encourage you to put up a bat house and plant a bat garden. Bat houses gives these animals a safe place to live and take care of their babies. (Learn more about how to build and where to put bat houses here).
Educate yourself, and support legislation that protects wildlife.
And spread the word! Many people still fear these amazing animals and we need to spread the word that bats are important and need our help.
Thanks for reading, I hope this blog taught you at least one new thing about these unique animals and that it inspired you to start helping in anyway you can 🙂