These Amazing Bats
by: Annette M. Hall
Charming, witty, informative, and knowledgeable are all adjectives that could be used to describe the presentation recently held in Pinecrest by Patricia Winters, President and in-house bat expert for the California Bat Conservation Fund. Attendees to the free Ranger Program: These Amazing Bats, were engaged, entertained and educated on a lot more than bats.
Common Bat Myths:
- All bats are blind.
- All bats are dirty and carry rabies.
- Bats will try to fly into your hair.
- Bats are vampires that will suck your blood.
Growing up with thousands of bats in our attic, I had heard all these supposed facts and many more. On the occasion a bat would get loose in the house, grandma would chase it around with a broom until she either knocked it down or managed to bat it out the door. Little did we know back then just how important bats are to our economy and in maintaining the balance of nature in our community. Scientists are only now beginning to understand just how important bats truly are.
A bat is the only mammal that can fly. Its scientific name is Chiroptera (Ki-ROP-ter-ah), meaning hand-wing. You could say a bat is handy to have hanging around. After all, bats are great for the ecosystem. Most eat tons and tons of harmful insects. Some species help reseed rainforests, while others pollinate plants. The thousand species of bats are divided into two main groups - Megachiroptera (big hand-wing) and Microchiroptera (small hand-wing). We call them megabats and microbats.
Did you know that?
- Four hundred fifty cash crops around the world depend on bats for pollination and/or seed dispersal.
- Up to 98% of the seeds dropped in cleared areas in tropical rainforests are dispersed by bats, making these animals critical to tropical reforestation efforts.
- Bats vary in size from the tiny Kitti's hog-nose bat of Thailand (sometimes called the Bumblebee bat), which weighs less than a penny, to the Flying Fox of India, with an average wingspan of 6 feet. Most of the world's bats are so small they could be mailed with one first-class stamp.
Bats have the largest surface area to body mass of any mammal, and this requires greater energy to maintain body temperatures. Sun-warmed bridges help adult bats to conserve energy and foster development of their young.
Learn More Bat Facts:
Bat Math Activities
- Math Activity Themes: Bats - Use these resources to capitalize on student interest in bats and develop student understanding of common mathematical patterns.
Dwindling Bat Populations
Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, approximately eighty percent of the country's bat population has been lost. Some of the main reasons are habitat destruction and vandalism by ignorant humans. Because bats have long been feared as a source of danger and disease, people often think little about destroying their colonies when they are discovered.
An even larger threat to bats has been the swelling use of pesticides in commercial agriculture. Bats feed primarily on insects, which have often been exposed to pesticides. Pesticides then build up in the tissues of the bat, and they sicken and die.
Maintaining local bat populations helps farmers to better control pests who destroy crops and helps keep pesticide use to a minimum. A single bridge can house as many as 1.5 million bats, which in turn can consume 10 to 15 tons of insects in a single night.
As our older Bridges deteriorate and are systematically being replaced with new structures, farmers became concerned that the loss of known bat populations would negatively effect their crops. Working with transportation authorities, thousands of bat populations have been saved with very little added cost to taxpayers. The benefit to both the farmers and area residents is significant.
A new bridge at Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County, replaced a span that had supported up to 3,500 day-roosting bats. The innovative design features a deep, concrete crevice (20 inches deep, 25 millimeters wide, and 75 feet long). The new habitat, which made up only 0.4 percent of the bridge's total cost), is expected to attract more than 3,000 bats and protect them from light and other man-made environmental impacts.
More than 1,500 Mexican free-tailed bats have turned a private bridge in Orange County, California, into a nursery. The problem is that the Hicks Canyon Haul Road Bridge across Santiago Canyon was scheduled for demolition. Now the bats and their home will be spared, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Many homeschooling families around the country have begun to realize the importance of bats and have built bat houses and explored their benefits. One homeschool mom writes:
My daughter reminded me that there is a Popular Mechanics for Kids TV episode on bats. We loved that show! Cheyenne says that if an adult human were to eat like a bat they'd have to consume like 150 hamburgers every night. We calculated that Cheyenne who is 80 pounds would need to eat 56 pounds of food if we're talking 70% of body weight consumed each day.
One of the more humorous examples Pat used to illustrate the popular misconceptions of our winged friends was by likening our fear of their "blood-sucking" to that of their predominant prey: mosquitoes. Unlike the very few bats that actually prey on the blood of mammals, of which none are known to willingly prey on the blood of humans, female mosquitoes in human populated areas (except for Toxorhynchites), survive partially on the blood of humans.
There are only three bat species that feed on blood: The Common Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus), the Hairy-legged Vampire Bat (Diphylla ecaudata), and the White-winged Vampire Bat (Diaemus youngi). All three species are native to the Americas, ranging from Mexico to Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Contrary to popular belief, these bats rarely bite people because they apparently dislike human blood. The saliva of vampire bats contains a substance, draculin, which prevents the victim's blood from clotting. They, therefore, lap blood rather than suck it as most people imagine.
Learn more about Bats
Learn About Bats
- Vampire Bats
- Amazing Bats of Bracken Cave
- Video: Foxy Fruit Bats
- Wild Watch Bat Cam
- Kid Zone Bats
- Bat Coloring Pages
- WBU Bats Education
- Bats: Why should we care
- Bat Gallery
- Field Guide to Mammals of North America
- Bats Bats Everywhere
- How Bats Work
- Adventures of Echo the Bat
- Take the Bat Quiz
- Bats in the Classroom
- Walker's Bats of the World - From the African long-tongued fruit bat to the wrinkle-faced bat of Mexico and Central America, Walker's Bats of the World is an astonishingly complete guide to this fascinating, beneficial, and varied order of mammals.
- Biology of Bats - Well adapted to numerous habitats, bats comprise almost one quarter of all species of mammals. This book is a comprehensive introduction to their biology. Suitable as a textbook for undergraduates and written by one of the world's leading researchers, the book offers an accessible summary of the extensive body of research on bats.
- Bat Ecology - The first part of the book covers the life history and behavioral ecology of bats, from migration to natural selection. The next section focuses on functional ecology, including ecomorphology, feeding, and physiology. In the third section, contributors explore macroecological issues such as the evolution of ecological diversity, range size, and infectious diseases (including rabies) in bats. A final chapter discusses conservation challenges facing these fascinating flying mammals.
- Bats in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book - Lots of great information if you love bats and want to know more about them, or fear bats and are interested in learning to love them. Lots of great photos, but not a picture book at all. Probably too wordy for little kids, but great for adults.
- Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats - The Stokes Beginners Guides, intended for beginning nature lovers of all ages, offer a wealth of identification and behavior information in a portable pocket-sized format.
- Understanding Bats - One of the best bat books on the market today. Fully up-to-date information on bat houses, how to get bats out of your attic, as well as information on how to protect bats and their benenfits to humans.
- Bats of the World - Learn about the natural history and evolution of bats, important bat identifying features, their flying and echolocation abilities, habitats, and migration patterns.
Bat Books Just for the Little Ones
- Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies - A really cute description of bats spending time at the beach after everyone is gone. Lovely illustrations. Reading level: Ages 4-8
- Bat Loves the Night: Read and Wonder by Nicola Davies follows the pipstrelle bats' nocturnal wanderings. Bat facts appear in a different typeface and illuminate the narrative. Pencil sketches on the endpapers label different kinds of bats with their common and scientific names. Reading level: Ages 4-8
- Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats by Ann Earle - "Each night a bat chomps half its own weight in bugs. If you weigh 60 pounds, that's like eating 125 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day." The book ends with fast facts on a few bat species and simple plans for building bat houses. Reading level: Ages 4-8
- Bats by Gail Gibbons - Taking issue with the unkind and untrue things said about bats through the years, Gibbons presents children with a more favorable introduction to the species. The text clearly describes the many types of bats as well as their physical characteristics, habits, and life cycle. Reading level: Ages 9-12
- Bat Jamboree by Kathi Appelt - A witty combination of counting book and theatrical experience. Each year the Bat Jamboree, starring 55 adorable bats, draws a standing-room only audience of animals of all types, and each year the show is better than ever. Reading level: Ages 4-8
Bats are truly amazing creatures. Most people know what a bat is and what it looks like, yet there are many myths surrounding bats that simply aren't true. Bats are not blind, they are not flying rodents or birds, they will not suck your blood — and most do not have rabies (but do not take this as an excuse to pick one up). Bats won't try to nest in your hair and usually they do not bother people. However, they do have an amazing ability that scientists and the military have been trying to uncover for more than 100 years. They can "see" using sound — this is known as echolocation or biosonar.
How Bats Hear
Bats use their biosonar in a sound or frequency range that humans cannot hear. Human hearing spans from about 200 hertz (or 200 cycles per second) to 20,000 hertz (or 20,000 cycles per second). Bats can hear well into the ultrasonic range or up to roughly 200,000 hertz. Their biosonar operates from about 25,000 to 100,000 hertz, abbreviated as 25 to 100 kilohertz or khz. (thousand hertz).
It may be a good thing that we cannot hear bats because their biosonar can be quite loud. Echolocation calls can range from 100 decibels (or db.) to about 60 db. 100 db. is approximately equivalent to a smoke detector alarm and 60 db. is about the sound level of a human conversation. If you live in the USA, you most likely have little brown bats and big brown bats in your area. Fortunately, scientists have developed an electronic device called a "Bat Detector," that allows humans to discern bat sounds.
A Bat Detector is a simple, handheld device that listens to the frequencies that bats use to hunt and find their way at night. It converts these frequencies to tones and clicks that humans can hear. Think of it as translator. Most Bat Detectors are the size of a pack of cigarettes and have a special microphone that picks up the echolocation calls of bats.
Build a Bat House
- Build a Bat House
- Build a Bat House
- Building a Better Bat House [pdf]
- The Bat House Builder's Handbook
- Build Your Own Bat House
- Triple Chambered Bat House Plans [pdf]
- Criteria for Successful Bat Houses [html]
- Criteria for Successful Bat Houses [pdf]
- Do-It-Yourself Bat House
- Free Bat House Plans
The more you learn about bats, the more you will realize just how special and important they are to us. Just one final word of caution: While most bats do not have rabies, if you find one on the ground, do not handle it! Most bats that have been grounded are grounded for a reason and are more likely to have rabies than an otherwise healthy bat. Call your local conservation office.
Have fun learning about bats.
Additional Batty Links
- Bat bite packs clot-busting potential for strokes
- Bat Bombs Away! - Defense Tech
- Disease Threatening Endangered Bats
- Bats of San Diego County
- Bat Patrol at National Geographic Magazine
- Bats and Rabies - CDC
- Florida Bat Conservancy
Updated November 12, 2011comments powered by Disqus