- Education and Science
Bats, from Brown to Vampire.
Bats Deserve Loving, Not Loathing
I’m Completely Bats Over…Bats!
One of the most unjustly maligned creatures on the planet is the Bat. In fact, probably no creature should be maligned by mankind until we sort out our own neurosis. But bats are the evil creatures of legend: the vampires who suck our blood; the half man, half bat, who swoop down as the clock strikes midnight and violate our virgins, (how they find one of those would appear to really get the most out of their echo locators), and so on. In fact, there are bats who will feast on our blood if given the chance, but they are really shy and furtive creatures and we are far from their natural prey.
Man, who has been around about 3 million years in one form or another, might well envy the bat’s lineage which goes back 60 million years to just after the swan-song of the dinosaurs. Like many other creatures who we dislike which are invaluable to our survival, such as spiders, the loss of bats would seriously upset the balance of nature. Although we don’t see them much, they are the second most diverse group of mammals on the planet, with almost 1000 sub-species, distributed in every continent except Antarctica.
Despite their past success, they are in serious danger of extinction today.
Bats are the most important predator of nocturnal insects. They have a further important role of seed dispersal, assisting in the regeneration of jungles. The loss of their natural environment, along with human persecution, are the main threat to bats all over the world.
Mexico is bat country. The Brown Bat is one of the most common; in Northern Mexico: its diet consists of beetles, bugs and other insects that, left unchecked, would denude crops in the area. A small colony of just 150 of these bats will consume around 38,000 diabrotica beetles in a season among other pests. Unchecked, these adults would go on to produce 18 million larvae, which eat corn-roots, sorghum, beans and other vital crops. Bats also save us millions of dollars in insecticides.
A huge colony of 5 million bats once living in the remarkable La Boca cave in Nuevo Leon was estimated to consume 50 TONS of insects each night! Thanks to human stupidity, the colony has been reduced to only 100,000 bats which means 50,000 kilos of harmful insects are left happily munching every night.
It’s the bats that like a fruit and nectar diet which disseminate the seeds. Just one Short Tailed Bat can disperse around 60,000 seeds each night. He’s the stork of the plant world and his efforts mean 98% of new, pioneer growth is deposited by bats in flight…sounds like a lot of crap…and it is! The list of wild and domesticated fruits that depend on the bat’s efforts read like the who’s who of the fruit world.
The “Tree of Marvels” also depends on the bat. That’s the Maguey, or Agave plants, so useful to early Mexicans and to the moderns in the production of tequila and its siblings, mezcal and pulque. It is the latter mildly alcoholic drink that inspired the ancients to wax loquacious over the plant, coining the term Tree of Marvels as the plant sent its central shoot towards the heavens.
It’s variously estimated that up to 500 vegetable products of economic importance depend on bats. Bat guano has begun to be used again after a century of decline. This is helped by the advent of organic crops as synthetic fertilizers are put aside in favour of good old dung. Bat dung is one of the highest in nutrients and has the added quality of combating fungi and nematodes, (unsegmented, often parasitic, worms). Guano also provides the nutrient base for a whole host of beneficial organisms which live in caves. They range from bacteria to blind fish. Many of the bacteria found in bat guano are being employed in the cleaning of toxic waste, improving detergent quality; uses in the petro-chemical industry and in the production of antibiotics.
Apart from the real fear that some bats are blood sucking, there have been all sorts of idiotic bad press, much of it emanating from Hollywood: one tale, completely without foundation, is that bats become stuck in woman’s hair. And although it is said some bats can carry rabies, how many people do you know who have caught rabies from a bat? It would be easier to get syphilis from the Virgin Mary.
Bats are one of our greatest friends and allies. Apart from their utility, they are beautiful and delicate little creatures as they skitter around our nightime sky, out flying all the bugs they call prey. Then they pack themselves out of sight during the day when we are about our own business, wrap their delicate wings around themselves and enjoy the sleep of innocents, secure in the belief they are safe. We should guard them while they rest.
Note: Vampire bats do suck blood, usually from farm stock or large wild animals. The one in the photo is about as big as a teacup. Thet attack sleeping prey by landing close and shuffling along the ground. Their heat sensors locate a blood-rich spot to bite and they suck approximately their body weight in a single meal. (about 2 ounces). They use an anticoagulant to numb the bite site and keep blood flowing. The bite is not serious, but they can pass on other infections, including, rarely, rabies. They are found in tropical regions.