A Q&A about one of halloween’s most popular creatures
Melody Bell Wilkes
A Walk in the Woods
Q. What are bats?
A. Bats are mammals belonging to the order Chiroptera that means “hand wing.” They are closely related to primates and humans and are not related to mice.
Q. How many bats are there in the world?
A. It is estimated that there are close to 1,000 different species of bats. This makes up one quarter of all mammal species on earth.
Q. What are the main types of bats?
A. There are microchiropterans and megachiropterans. Microchiropterans are small bats that eat primarily insects. They have small eyes with good eyesight. Even though they have good eyesight, they use echolocation sounds emitted from their larynx and nose to hunt for food at night and be aware of surrounding objects. To funnel sounds back to them from echolocation calls, their ear and nose shape can vary from species to species. They live in temperate regions of the world and go into a hibernation state in winter called “torpor.”
Megachiropterans are large bats called fruit bats or “flying foxes” since they have fox-like shaped faces. Their large eyes and good sense of smell guides them to the fruit hanging from trees. They live in tropical climates where fruit is abundant all year long.
Q. What do bats eat?
A. Bats eat all sorts of things depending on the type of bat it is. There are bats that eat insects, blood, fish, fruit, pollen, nectar and even other bats!
Q. What animals like to eat bats?
A. Bats natural predators are raccoons, opossums, skunks, snakes, owls and hawks. In some countries, people eat flying foxes and they are sold in neighborhood markets.
Q. Do bats get caught in your hair?
A. Bats avoid people and do not get tangled in your hair. If mosquitoes are flying, bats will try to eat the mosquitoes. They want nothing to do with your hair.
Q. Do bats carry rabies?
A. As in all mammals, bats too can carry rabies. Only one half of one percent of bats actually carry rabies. To be safe, never handle a wild bat. Only enjoy them from a distance.
Q. What should I do if I find a grounded bat?
A. Bats feel safest in high places. Their means of escaping from predators is to fly away from them. If caught, they will try to bite if they cannot fly away. Bats found on the ground are probably not healthy and should not be picked up.
Q. What should I do if a bat decides to live in my attic?
A. If a bat lives around your home, be thankful since they are eating lots of harmful insects like mosquitoes and pests that eat your garden. If you want to get a bat(s) out of your attic, then do your research and find a reputable pest control company. Some companies will charge high prices knowing that you may be fearful of these animals. It is illegal to poison them. For other methods on bat eradication in buildings for the homeowner, please visit the Bat Conservation International (BCI) Web site http://www.batcon.org.
Q. Why should I care about bats?
A. Bats are the primary hunters of night flying insects. One small bat can consume up to 1,200 insects in one hour. By controlling harmful insect populations, bats also reduce the need for harmful pesticides in the environment. Fruit bats are the main pollinators of peaches, avocados, bananas, mangoes, cashews and more. Agriculture practices rely on wild plant stocks to help strengthen genetic diversity and disease control in cultivated crops. In Africa, fruit bats are responsible for 90 percent of the rainforest regrowth due to seed dispersal. Bats sonar abilities are also being studied for military defense operations. Plus in the medical field, vampire bat saliva is being studied to help heart patients.
Q. Are bat populations safe in the world today?
A. No, unfortunately bats are disappearing from the earth at alarming rates. People are killing bats out of fear since they don’t really understand them. Habitats and food sources are also being destroyed. In North America, 40 percent of all bats are either threatened or endangered. This has become a worldwide problem.
Q. What can I do to help bats?
A. Education is key in helping bats. Talk to people and let them know what you have learned about the benefits of bats. You can also put up a bat house in your yard to attract bats and give them a roosting site. See the BCI criteria for putting up a bat house since they have certain preferences. Support organizations that help bats such as Bat Conservation International (http://www.batcon.org) or Organization for Bat Conservation (http://www.batconservation.org). They are also good sources to learn more about bats.
Melody Bell Wilkes is the owner of A Walk in the Woods, an environmental education company. For more information please call 704-436-9048 or visit http://www.awalkinthewoods.us.