5 facts about bats
April 17th is Bat Appreciation Day. Here at SRUC, we love all creatures great and small, so we’ve compiled 5 facts about the children of the night. Let’s start with the most obvious one.
1. The fear of bats is called “chiroptophobia”
For centuries now, bats have been synonymous with dark forces – worldwide culture is filled with references to bats. Starting as early as the Aztec era, we see references to bats as evil creatures all the way through history; Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters in MacBeth make reference to bat fur in their cauldron, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can shape shift into the form of a bat, and in DC Comics’ Batman, where Bruce Wayne takes on the persona of a bat to strike fear into his enemies.
Whether it’s the fact that bats are nocturnal, that they live in darkness in caves, or they can be a startling presence when they swoosh past you in the dark, bats have definitely developed a reputation for being terrifying animals.
At the top of this list is arguably the misconception that all bats are vampiric – in fact only 3 species of bat live on blood and they are all located in South America, far from our Scottish shores.
Truthfully, bats aren’t anything to be afraid of. The majority of them feed on fruit or insects, with only a small portion eating flesh of other animals. They pose no immediate danger to us.
The smallest bat, bumble bee bat of Thailand, is the size of a thumbnail, and the largest, the giant golden-crowned flying fox, measures 1.7m from wing to wing.
Whilst bats don’t pose an immediate threat to humans, it’s not wise to try to handle one without the appropriate equiment or training, as they can carry many diseases.
2. Bats are really important to our ecosystem
As many bats mainly source their diets from small insects, they perform a very crucial function in pest control in many plants, and indeed are helpful in keeping both the mosquito and moth populations in check. Bats can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour and often consume their body weight in insects every night, helping keep bug populations under control. It’s reported that this natural control of moths saves the global corn industry $1m per year.
In fact, in tropical climates, 150 species of plant relies entirely on bats for pollination and for distribution of seeds. This is because the bats remove the fruit from the trees and return to their roosts to consume the fruit, simply sucking out the juice and spitting out the seeds.
And on the subject of bats eating…
3. Bat poo is really, really valuable
Guano, to use its more technical name, is incredible versatile, and is used in a variety of products.
In fact, because of its rich properties, it’s an excellent fertiliser and is used widely in agriculture. It contains high amounts of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. It also works as a fungicide, and was used extensively as gunpowder during WW1 due to its high amounts of potassium nitrate.
Once upon a time, before oil became big business, guano was the state of Texas’ biggest industry…
4. Bats are endangered species
Sadly, many species of bat are on the endangered species list and are at risk of extinction. In Europe alone there are 3 species on the critical list, with as many as 16 out of 22 species in the Oceana region of the globe on the critical list.
Bats are endangered due to their habitats being destroyed, disruption to their food chains, hunting or disease.
Thankfully many groups exist to protect bats and to conserve them. Here in the UK, bats are fully protected by law as they are a European Protected Species.
Of course, here at SRUC, we offer a range of Countryside Management courses, a component of which is species and habitat management. We also offer Animal Care and Veterinary Nursing courses for those looking to care for animals.
Thankfully, we’ve a happier note to end on…
5. Bats are pretty amazing creatures
Yes, despite being an endangered genus, bats are quite spectacular. They can live very long lives, with some species living up to 30 years.
Some can fly at top speeds of 60mph, and are the only mammals capable of sustained flight. Yes, that’s right, bats are mammals, not rodents.
Whilst most bats will fly south for the winter, many species wil hibernate in colder climates and will actually survive being encased in ice over the winter! Now think of that the next time you complain about the cold.
But arguably the most amazing thing about bats is their incredible echolocation skills.
Effectively, echolocation is a form of sonar, and bats use it to outstanding effect. The loudest bat call can be 130dB in volume (that’s louder than bagpipes), and it enables them to locate their prey in pitch darkness by listening to the echoes of their calls.
Bonus: Bats aren’t blind
Next time someone tells you that you’re “blind as a bat”, take comfort in knowing that bats are not blind. Whilst smaller species of bat have poorly developed visual senses, bats use their vision to help with flight, going beyond the limits of their echolocation, and many species even using their vision as the primary hunting sense, swooping down from above on small prey.
In fact, many bats are thought to be able to detect ultraviolet light, and can see very well in dimly lit spaces.
So there you have it, 6 bat-tastic facts for National Bat Day.