Welcome to the bat-tastic world of important facts that make bats the rockstars of Halloween!
Bat Week, October 24-31, brings to light a global celebration of these significant creatures and why they are so crucial to a healthy ecosystem. Let’s dive into the mysteries of these nocturnal wonders!
Small, secretive, and nocturnal bats are found in secluded shelters like caves, tunnels, bridges, mines, vacant buildings, and even your attic. They are like nature’s detectives. Bats play a critical role and are sound indicators for monitoring ecosystem health because of their longevity and sensitivity to environmental changes that may also affect other organisms.
Fly, My Pretty
Bats are the only mammals that can truly fly. They are aerodynamic mammals and are known as insect eaters. March through September is their time to shine as they savor moths, beetles, gnats, pesky mosquitos, and crickets. Imagine having a late-night snack that is 50% of your body weight!
Mother Nature’s Helpers
Bats are pollinators and seed spreaders. As they scatter the seeds of plants, they aid in regenerating forests, native wildflower areas, fruit crops, and your garden – and pollinate over 500 different types of tropical plants each year. Bat poop, aka guano, is rich in nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium – and is the organic superhero fertilizer that helps plants grow big and strong. Move over, chemical fertilizers! According to The Nature Conservancy, “Guano was Texas’s largest mineral export before oil!”
Through medical research and treatment of bats, benefits include longevity, metabolism, drug research, blood circulation, stroke treatments, and the development of devices to assist people with visual disabilities.
Batty for Diversity
Bats are the second most diverse order of mammals, with about 1,200 to 1,400 species worldwide. According to the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NAbat), eight species or subspecies of bats in the U.S. are listed as endangered by the federal government.”
Bat Myths Unraveled
It is a misconception that all bats carry rabies; the fact is that in the United States, less than a fraction of a percent have the disease, so there is little danger to humans. And bats are clean animals – like cats, they groom, lick, and scratch themselves for hours.
Is the Eastern European tale of a vampire bat a myth?
The story is about a human (surely not Bela Lugosi) who died and came back to life and sucked the blood from the neck of humans, dating back to the Middle Ages. The Vampire Bat is named more for the legend. Bats feed on the blood of cattle, horses, and wild animals such as deer. The Vampire bat rarely bites humans.
- Bats’ eyes might be small, but they are not all blind; they are color-blind and can see three times better than humans.
- Bats’ ears are large, mobile, well-developed, and extremely sensitive to sound. In fact, they use an acoustic orientation called echolocation. It’s like a built-in GPS. Bats emit high-frequency sound pulses through their mouths and nostrils to catch prey in total darkness. By listening to their returning echoes, they can discern their prey’s size, shape, texture, distance, speed, direction, and movement.
- A bat’s echolocation is so sensitive that bats can detect objects as thin as human hair in total darkness. That is truly amazing! Scientists who study echolocation find bats valuable subjects for learning about their environment and biological habits.
- The thin-skinned membrane structure of a bat’s heavy-boned and muscular wings is similar to that of our human arms and hands.
Just Hangin’ Around
Hanging upside down is a bat’s favorite yoga pose, making them ready for takeoff when danger approaches. During daylight hours, bats will roost in pairs, wrapping themselves with their wings like a cloak and hanging upside down using their feet. For one, it puts them in an easy position to fly off when hunting for food or escaping from predators like owls, hawks, or snakes by simply letting go of whatever they are hanging onto, dropping, and taking off. And two, the upside down, relaxed position exerts less energy using its talons to effortlessly grip a deserted dark and safe location to rest.
As humans, if we hang upside down for an extended time, our blood pressure will increase, and our heartbeat will slow down, which can lead to blood clots, blindness, and death. Bat Conservation International states, “Bat’s small and compact body allows its circulatory system to efficiently distribute the small blood volume in the valves in its veins and arteries to keep blood flowing in the right direction when hanging upside down.”
Most bat species mate in the late summer or early fall. In early June, female bats will birth one pup (baby) annually. The pup can weigh up to one-third of her mother’s weight. Mom will nurse and carry her young in a pouch in the days following birth. As the pup gets a little older, it will be left behind, clinging to the wall or roof of a cave or other shelter, waiting for mom to return with food.
Mortality for young bats is very high, as they are affected by falls, parasites, malnutrition, disease, and unsuitable places to roost. Bats face stress problems like humans, but stress can lead to death in bats. Properly placed nursery boxes near abundant insect populations help ensure lower bat stress and lower newborn mortality.
Older bats can live up to 20 to 30 years. The most senior living bat was a male Brant’s myotis that lived to be 41 years of age.
The Little Brown, Indiana, and Northern long-eared bats in North America have dramatically diminished in population due to white-nose syndrome, a white fungal disease contracted from physical contact with unhealthy bats, and surface from caves and shelters where they hibernate.
The white-nose fungus primarily infects the skin of the muzzle, ears, and wings of bats during hibernation, causing them to wake up to daytime activity at warm temperatures, resulting in weight loss by using their fat reserves, dehydration, and starving to death before spring.
When a bat population is eliminated, so much of our ecosystem is affected, resulting in an increased population of insects impacting our environment, forest, and agriculture, as well as increased amounts of money on the annual elimination of pests. According to Whitenosesyndrome.org, “Bats contribute about $3.7 billion worth of insect control for farmers in the U.S. each year.”
How can you lend a hand to the bat community?
- Learn more about these unique mammals through your community, state, and national parks.
- Participate in a citizen science or stewardship program with your local park educator, helping build a shelter for bats, such as a bat box, house, or condo. Four species of bats will take advantage of rooting in these unique bat houses: Little/Big brown bats, endangered Indiana bats, and northern long-eared bats.
- If you are an adventurous individual who likes to explore caves, please clean and disinfect your shoes, clothing, and gear, helping to eliminate the spread of white-nose fungus syndrome.
Let’s give bats the applause they deserve because, without them, our world would be a lot less batty and a little more buggy!
Written by Yvonne Dwyer
Master Naturalist and OPL Content Contributor
“It is truly an honor for me to be a contributor to One Planet Life. By sharing my experiences and lifetime of learning, I hope to inspire conservation, sustainability, stewardship, and awareness of enjoying the natural wonders of the world for the wellbeing of people and the planet.”