Happy Halloween from EON! To celebrate, we are going to share some awesome facts about one of the holiday’s biggest mascots -- bats! There are over 1,400 species of bat in the world, ranging from the Bumblebee or Kitti’s hog-nosed bat which weighs less than a penny, to the flying fox bat, which can have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. They can be found on every continent in the world except for Antarctica, with their highest species diversity occurring in Indonesia and the northern half of South America.
Many people associate bats with being disease-ridden, vicious, ugly animals that only exist to be malicious and spread rabies or other diseases. In reality, though, over 99% of human deaths due to rabies are caused by dog bites, and the majority of bats are not infected with rabies. Bats are just as likely to get the disease as a lot of other mammals are -- in fact less than 0.5% of bats get the disease. Bats do not really want anything to do with humans, they are not aggressive in nature but, like any other animal, they will bite if they feel cornered or threatened and we should keep our distance with ALL wildlife for this reason. Contrary to the saying “blind as a bat”, bats have incredible vision, as well as echolocation, to help them to be acquainted with their surroundings at night and are incredibly agile. One common misconception about the animals is the fear that bats will “suck people’s blood”. Of the aforementioned 1,400 species of bats there are 3 species of vampire bats that drink blood; however, there is only one that drinks the blood of mammals, mostly livestock. All three vampire bat species are found in Latin America, so the fear is even more unprecedented here in the U.S.
Bats are also extremely beneficial to humans as well as their ecosystems as a whole. Many species of bats are fruit or nectar eating. Much like bees, when they land on plants to drink the nectar, they often get pollen on their bodies which is transferred to other plants to help with pollination. Some of the major fruits that are pollinated by bats are avocados, mangoes, and bananas, but over 300 species of fruits rely on bats for pollination. Also, when they eat fruit, they will often swallow the seeds along with the good, meaty of the fruit. The seeds go through their digestive system and will come out in their feces (or guano) after they’ve flown to a different area, and this is vital in seed dispersal – it helps the trees to grow in new areas and increase their genetic diversity. Many of the bats that do not eat fruit or nectar, are insectivores – meaning they eat bugs. Reports have shown that one brown bat is able to eat about 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour. Mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths than any other animal, so can you imagine what our lives would look like without the bat controlling them? Bats are just all-around great pest control, one study showed that bats save American agriculture between 4 and 50 million dollars annually in pesticide applications. Finally, going back to vampire bats -- when this bat feeds, it expels an anticoagulant in its saliva which prevents the blood of the animal from clotting (allowing them to drink their meal without having to keep re-biting the animal). This anticoagulant has actually been studied in medical labs and has since been developed into a medicine to prevent strokes in humans. So, while we may think their feeding habits are a bit odd, the vampire bats may be responsible for saving lives.
Bats are adorable and extremely important animals and, unfortunately, their populations are in decline in many areas around the world. Population declines are due to habitat loss due to deforestation/commercialization, diseases (such as white nose syndrome), climate change, and declines in food abundance. You can help ensure the survival of bats by limiting your pesticide use, building and installing a bat house, or plant flowers specifically to feed the bats in your area! Bat Conservation International (BCI) is a great resource to check out if you want to learn more: https://www.batcon.org/about-bats/bats-101/.
Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis) picture from Maryland DNR website (dnr.maryland.gov)