Biology Notes: Information On Bats

Description of the ecological importance of Bats, their feeding methods, reproduction, migration and sonar ability.

Horror, blood and rabies pretty much sums up the reputation of the bat. Unfortunately for the bat, it is very difficult to dispel these notions. There are many reasons for us to look at bats as an important ecological tool as they are effective in biological control of insects, pollinators for plants and spreading seeds and controlling crop parasites. Bats are just another example of the interdependent relationships in nature that help to keep it balanced and healthy. Unfortunately for the bat they are not fuzzy and cuddly, so they do not sit high on the list of popular mammals.

In the U.S. alone there are approximately 45 different species of bats. They are the only "true" flying mammals (having hair and giving birth to live young) and their weights range from as little as that of a coin to more then 3lbs. Some of the larger flying species (ie.Flying Fox) can have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. These nocturnal mammals can live up to 30 years, and have been known to migrate or hibernate when living in the cooler temperate zones. Their gestation period only last for a few weeks and they usually only have one to four babies, depending on the species.

Their young develop rapidly and are able to fly within a few weeks. Bats do not have the ability to decipher colors, although their means of sonar (echolocation) is extremely acute. This echolocation allows them to navigate and sense object distances in the dark. They make spurts of high frequency sound and the echos bouncing off the objects help them to judge distances between them and what's around them. Many people fear a bat getting trapped in their hair, which is considered to now be a myth. With such a complex sonar system, it is not realistic to believe they will just fly into your hair. Obviously in an enclosed place like a bedroom, and feeling threatened or injured they could be forced into this type of a situation.

People who observe bats notice their seemingly erratic pattern of flying. This is a result of one of their feeding methods, in which they scoop insects into the fold of their wings and then feed upon them. Surprisingly enough, the bones in our hands and fingers are very similar to that of the bat, only theirs are longer. As far as the rabies theory goes, "less than 1/2 of 1% of bats carry the rabies virus" and "rabid bats are seldom aggressive".

Nature has its own means to create balance within her world, and bats are a major contributor. They have vast importance in the area of biological control when it comes to insects. Approximately 70% of bats feed almost entirely on insects. Just one bat may be able to consume up to 1000 insects in just one hour! "The twenty million Mexican Free-tail Bats from Bracken Cave can eat 250 tons of insects in just one night." That's a whole lot of insect control, and it is much safer to the environment than the use of insecticides.

There are some species of bats that feed on nectar or fruit, and they are extremely important for pollinating or spreading plant seeds. Some species of plant depend almost entirely on the bat population to thrive, and it would mean extinction without the contribution of the bats. The complexity of nature's own controls depends on the entire unit to function and if you remove one element, then it can affect many different areas all the way down the food chain (ie. loss of a bat species = loss of a plant = equals loss of an insect = stress to species who depend on that insect as a food source).

Brown Bats apparently assist farmers by eliminating a root worm which can affect crop production. There is even research going on that will determine if saliva from the Vampire Bat can be used medicinally.

As you can now see, bats should be considered a valuable asset to our lives and we should do what is necessary to ensure their survival. They may not be the most attractive mammals ever created, but they are certainly one of our more necessary ones. Hopefully with more public awareness people will come to stop thinking of them with fear, but with respect. As with people, looks are not a determining factor to their abilities or their importance. What a mighty responsibility that these little critters must bear. For we would be hard pressed to live up to their efficiency in the areas of biological control or in pollinating without them.

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