Happy Bat Week! From October 24 – 31, we are celebrating bats by spreading the word about how incredible they are and dispelling any rumors claiming that these often misunderstood animals are pests that should be feared or avoided.
Bats have a bit of an undeserved reputation for being creepy, biting humans and sucking their blood or spreading diseases such as rabies. Fewer than 1% of bats in the wild carry rabies and are extremely unlikely to bite humans if they are given the space they are looking for, and the majority of bats would much rather eat insects or fruit instead of blood. South America and Mexico are home to three species of vampire bats, but even those bats would much prefer to lap up a couple of tablespoons of blood from a cow or pig than from a human, and the anticoagulant properties of their saliva are being studied for use in human medicine. These flying wonders are much more fascinating than they are creepy.
Bats are mammals with fur and live young just like us, but unlike us, they are the only mammals capable of true flight. Insect-eating bats have another kind of superpower in the form of echolocation, which allows them to find their way around obstacles and pinpoint the exact location of their prey in the dark night sky using high-pitched squeaks and clicks. From the giant golden-crowned flying fox with a wingspan of five feet to the tiny bumblebee bat with a wingspan of just six inches, bats are incredibly diverse with about 1,300 different species of bats out in the world flying around. That means nearly a quarter of all mammals are bats!
In just one night, a bat can eat its own body weight in pesky insects that carry disease, and they save the agriculture industry billions of dollars each year by taking care of pests that would otherwise feast on crops. Bats also allow us to keep eating some of our favorite foods by pollinating plants and spreading their seeds, so the next time you enjoy a piece of chocolate or some juicy mango, you can thank a fruit bat for helping that cacao tree or mango grow!
Chewonki’s Traveling Natural History Program offers lessons for developing bat enthusiasts in schools, libraries, and nursing homes around Maine. Bats of the World helps participants better understand the key ecological role bats play across the globe while exposing the truth behind the more unfavorable myths about bats and encouraging an appreciation for their unparalleled abilities. We also offer a mammals program that discusses some of the adaptations of bats along with many other Maine mammals.
Let’s use this week (and every week) to support and appreciate bats for all they do for our world!
If you would like to learn more about bats, the mammals of Maine, or the other programs offered by the Traveling Natural History Program, please visit our website: http://tnhp.chewonki.org
Written by: Siobhan Prout, Traveling Natural History Fellow