Four Ways That Bats Are Beneficial to Humans
Bats get a bad rap. In many cultures they have unfairly been associated with evil and darkness. Think Dracula. In Tanzania, there are legends of an evil shapeshifting cryptid spirit called Popobawa whose M.O. includes assaulting and even sodomizing his victims. Sheesh. In other places they are subject to all manner of myths and misconceptions. In truth, though, bats are actually amazingly beneficial creatures. They are crucial to the ecosystems they inhabit, and even incredibly helpful to areas of human interest such as agriculture, medicine, and even engineering.
1. Bats: Nature's Pest Control
Bats are some of the most helpful animals to have around when it comes to agriculture. Insectivorous bats can consume half their body weight in crop damaging pests per night - double that, if the bats in question are pregnant or nursing young. (That’s over 3000 insects per night, per bat.) Having bats around to eat a majority of these pests, allows farmers to use substantially less pesticides on their crops - which saves them money, and makes for healthier crops. In fact, scientists have estimated that in the United States alone, bats’ role in the reduction of pesticide use and crop damage due to invasive insects, save farmers over 3.7 billion dollars per year. That’s no small change.
2. Bats Are Tiny Flying Farmers
Many flowering and fruit bearing plants get help with pollination from bats. Some species of bats like to drink sweet nectar from plants. Their wings pick up pollen off of the plants they feed on and spread it to other plants, helping with plant fertilization. Some important commercial crops rely very heavily on bats - to not only to help with pollination, but to help spread new seeds. Fruit-eating bats excrete the seeds from the fruit they eat, often while flying, which helps grow more fruit trees. (Their poo, called 'guano' also makes great fertilizer.) Some popular crops that rely on bats include - peaches, bananas, and agave. So next time you bite into a juicy peach or a sweet banana, you can remember that you have bats (and possibly their poo) to thank for your snack.
Bats Love Fruit
3. Bats Save Human Lives
One of the popular myths about bats is that they suck human blood. In actuality, there are more than 1200 species of bats, and of those, only three species eat blood. Of the three that eat blood, only one species targets mammals - typically cattle. Vampire bats, as they are called, live solely in South America. Despite their terrifying reputation, vampire bats have been useful to medical science. Vampire bat saliva has been found to have amazing anticoagulant properties. Which makes sense if your diet consists of the blood of large mammals. Scientists have used the anticoagulant found in bat saliva to develop drugs that help stop clots that might cause strokes and coronary embolisms. They are also being studied for their ability to survive in temperatures that are far too cold for humans. I’d say that that is pretty cool! (No horrible pun intended.)
4. Bats Inspire Human Inventions
Another enduring myth about bats is that they are all blind, and rely solely on echolocation to fly around at night. In actuality, all bat species can see, but they do use echolocation to aid them in the dark. Engineers have studied echolocation in bats, and what they have learned has influenced our modern SONAR systems. Researchers have also studied the way that bats flap their wings, and hope that someday smaller flying vehicles will be built to mimic the way that bats fly - and we all want a flying car, already!
Despite all the amazing ways bats benefit from humans, there are still many negative myths surrounding them. When people don't understand something, they can be hostile towards it out of a mistaken sense of fear. This fear is particularly dangerous to bats. Their population has been dwindling for years, partially due to fear and being unfairly treated as pests. It's important to know that: Bats don't drink human blood. They don't like to nest or get tangled in human hair. In fact, they are typically afraid of humans and tend to stay away. And while they can, like all other mammals, contract rabies - they are not necessarily more likely to have rabies. They are also not any dirtier than other animals. They clean and groom themselves much like cats do! So I say, "Out with the myths!", let's dispel the terrible rumors. Let it be known that bats are actually pretty awesome backyard friends.
© 2015 Erika Ford