Volume 37, Issue 2, 2018

Off the Beat

One Bat at a Time

By Mike Daulton

When I tell people what I do for a living (“I save bats,” I like to say), sometimes I get a quizzical look. “I didn’t know that was a thing,” is a response I’ve heard more than once.

Usually what transpires next is a quick explanation from me of why saving bats is, in fact, a thing. Bats are incredibly valuable ecologically, I tell them. They pollinate, they control insects, they spread seeds in the rainforest. Bats not only help keep our environment healthy and in balance, they help farmers too. We need them, and they are gravely threatened here in America and all over the world. Usually, that’s enough for a light to go on.

But it also isn’t the whole story. As a reader of Bats magazine, you know that bats have amazing abilities. My most recent favorite example is Spix’s disk-winged bat, which can climb a wall like Spider-Man. As this issue of our magazine shows us, we all have much to gain by learning all we can, not just from the extraordinary and unusual wall-climbing bats, but from all bats.

In the field of biomimicry, scientists look to nature for solutions to real-world problems. Scientists have studied shark skin to learn how to make hydrodynamic swimming suits. They have studied spider silk to learn how to make strong, lightweight synthetic fibers. Because bats have such amazing abilities, they too are emerging as a wellspring of potential insights.

Bats have unique flight dexterity, a unique ability to communicate and navigate by echolocation, and unusual longevity for the animal world. Scientists are studying bat genomes to gain insights about human aging, bat echolocation to create better self-driving cars, and bat flight to develop better drones.

Bats are valuable not just for what they do for us in nature but for what we can learn from them to advance our goals as a civilization. If bats were to vanish, all of that value would be lost. That’s why we all should be concerned that the global rate of extinction is 100 to 1,000 times higher than it was before humans came on the scene tearing down forests and paving over wild habitat.

It’s why saving bats is a thing.

Mike Daulton,
BCI Executive Director

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