Bats of the World approximately as it is presented to school groups.
Carol Hunt and Tom Venier
Bats are truly amazing animals. They are enormously beneficial to man, yet they are among the most misunderstood of animals. For example, they are not blind, they are not dirty, few have rabies, and they don’t fly into people’s hair and get tangled up. Bats make up a fifth of all mammals. With around thousand different species they make up the second largest mammal order; this fact alone obviously makes them a vital part of the world’s ecology.
Yet, most people don’t like bats. Why? Many people associate bats with negative pictures, headlines, and/or movies that producers seem to want to make as scary as possible, especially around Halloween. These types of photos are shown only to shock and scare people (and to sell the product) and reveal nothing about the true nature of bats. Unfortunately, they do succeed in making people afraid of bats.
But on closer examination, we see that bats are beautiful animals that are actually very timid and shy. They make wonderful mothers; baby bats usually stay with their moms their entire life.
Bats are also very unique. First, of course they are the only mammal that can fly. They are in their own Order of mammals called Chiroptera, which is Latin for hand-winged. A bats wing is essentially the same as a human hand, it has 1, 2, 3, 4 fingers and a thumb. The biggest difference is that bats fingers are long and has two layers of skin stretched between them.
By the way, some people ask If bats always hang upside down, the answer is no, not when they are going to the bathroom? They very clean animals. They even move away from the group so they don’t soil their friends.
There are 45 species of bats in the United States. All U.S. bats are microbats, which mean they are small. They usually have small eyes, large ears, and use echolocation to find food. A few of the types of bats found in the U.S. are a big brown bat, which is common to Michigan and found throughout the United States; a Mexican free-tailed bat, a common species in the southern states; named free-tailed because its little tail is free from the tail membrane. Other bats in the U.S. range in appearance from the beautiful hoary bat, a solitary bat found in evergreens, and the endangered Indiana bat, which is losing much of its summer habitat. The pallid bat, found in the Southwest, eats scorpions and tarantulas, and the red bat, one of the few sexually dimorphic bats in which the males are a beautiful red.
When talking about bats, it’s important to talk about bat habitat, or the places bats might choose to live. Most bats in the U.S. roost in dead trees where they prefer to crawl under the loose and peeling bark.
Others feel at home in barns or man-made structures, caves, and bat houses. Many bats are adaptable and happy in bat houses but it’s important to know that not all bat houses are created equal. Some just don’t work.
Knowing what an animal needs to survive is important in conservation. You need to put up the bat house in the proper place. Up at least 12 feet, up in an open area, facing south to southeast, and try to put up on a pole or building. We can talk a little more about bat houses after the slide presentation.
Bats here in the United States are very important because of the amount of insects they eat. Without bats we would be over run with mosquitoes. As a matter of fact one bat can eat 600 to over 1,000 mosquitoes every hour in our backyards–an important factor when considering insect-born diseases like the West Nile Virus.
Bats are not blind, but they do rely on something beside their eyesight to find their way around at night and catch all those insects–called echolocation. The sound you hear is echolocation slowed down considerably.
The bat above sho ws how echolocation would look if you could see it. A night pitched sound is emitted from the bats mouth, this sound hits and object and bounces back to the bats ears. It gives the bat so much detail it can detect a single strand of human hair.
Not all U.S. bats eat insects, there are 3 species of bats in southwest that drink nectar from flowers: the Mexican long-tongued bat, the greater long-nosed bat and the lesser long-nosed bat. Such bats have long noses that they are able to put deep into the flower to get nectar. The flower has a different objective. It hides it’s nectar inside, but has it’s pollen on the outside. The bat hovers like a butterfly as it sips the nectar with its long tongue, but still its face becomes covered in pollen. As the bat flies to the next flower it leaves pollen and collects more.
Thus, bats that drink nectar and pollinate flowers throughout the world, and are very important to many of the foods we enjoy wild bananas, avocado, chocolate, and agave are a few. The famous baobab trees of Africa are completely dependant on one kind of bat (the epauletted bat) for pollination.
There are hundreds of species of bats that live in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, including the most famous of all the bats, the vampire bat. Out of 1000 different kinds of bats in the world there are only 3 kinds of Vampire bats: the common, the hairy-legged, and the white-winged. All three live in S. America.
Vampire bats are sanguivores, which mean they only drink blood–primarily cows, chickens, goats, and other livestock.
The way vampire bats go about getting a meal is fascinating and unique. It selects its donor, a chicken perhaps, first the bat makes sure the chicken is sleeping by listening to the animal’s deep, even breathing, it then lands and tiptoes (literally) up to the chicken. The bat makes a tiny cut in the chicken’s toe and licks a small amount of blood (1-2 Tbsp.), then tiptoes away. The chicken doesn’t die, isn’t drained of blood, and doesn’t turn into a vampire chicken the next day.
The large fruit bats are only found in the old world tropical rainforests. Places like Australia, Asia, & Africa.
These large fruit bats, or mega bats all have common characteristics. The largest bat in the world, found is Asia, is the Malaya n or Giant flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus). All mega bats have large eyes. We said earlier that bats were not blind, but mega bats can actually see three times better than we can. They also see in color, which helps them locate ripe fruit.
Mega bats have dog-like faces with that long pointed nose–which is why they’re called flying foxes. As you would guess, they have a keen sense of smell. A mega bat can smell fruit over a mile away. Most mega bats have relatively small ears and can not echolocate.
Most people have no idea how important mega bats are as seed dispersers in keeping a rainforest growing. Bats are actually the primary seed dispersers in areas of the rainforest that have been clear-cut. This has obvious implications for humans, not only for the fruits and medicines that the rainforest provides, but as habitat for so many other animals.
So, clearly bats are important. Just three reasons are that they eat insects, pollinate flowers, and help rainforests to grow–and most of those services are provided sight-unseen.
However bats need our help. Nearly half of all bats in the world are endangered or threatened. That’s pretty scary considering the roll bats play in all of our lives. However, there are some fairly simple things you can do to help bats–especially in our position as docents. First, we can teach people that bats are good guys; that they are not mean, dirty or ugly, but shy and timid and of enormous benefit to man. Offer your own educational programs for your family, friends or zoo visitors. Second, leave up natural places for bats to live, like dead trees. Encourage people to support organization that buy land for habitat. Or buy or make bat houses either for your personal use or certainly at your zoo, considering the impact West Nile has had on some of our bird collections, if not you can certainly promote them. It’s a great project for volunteers! To help bats you can also join an organization like the Organization for Bat Conservation that supports conservation research and helps spread the positive image of bats to anyone who will listen. To find out more about the Organization for Bat Conservation and building or buying bat boxes visit us at: www.batconservation.org