White-Nose Syndrome

Bats Are Cool!

A Yuma myotis (Myotis yumanensis) in flight.
Credit: Michael Durham / Minden Pictures

Yes, bats are definitely cool. More than 1,300 bat species worldwide display an amazing diversity as species evolved over at least 60 million years to survive in wildly varied habitats and food chains.

Here's a few other things you might not know about bats of the world:

  • Bats are mammals that belong to the order Chiroptera (from the Greek cheir - "hand" and pteron -"wing”). The forelimbs of bats form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight.

 

  • Bats are the second largest group of mammals in the world. The largest mammal group is rodents. In many languages, the word for "bat" is similar with the word for "mouse" – for example in German where "Fledermaus" means “flutter” and “mouse”. Bats however are not closely related to mice. In fact on the molecular phylogenetic tree of mammals humans and rodents are more closely related to each other than to bats!

 

  • One genus of bats, Myotis, is more broadly distributed than any other terrestrial mammal genus. Other than Antarctica, bats of this genus can be found on every continent! 

 

hoary bat with twins
A female hoary bat perched with her twin young. Credit: MerlinTuttle.org

 

  • Bats are exceptionally vulnerable to extinction, in part because they are among the slowest reproducing mammals on Earth for their size. Most bat species only give birth to one pup, however some species can give birth to multiples. The hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) for example regularly has twins.

 

  • Most bats moms give birth to a single pup at a time, for good reason. Baby bats can weigh up to one-third of their mother’s body weight. To put that into perspective, just imagine birthing a 40-pound human infant!

 

  • The largest bat colony in the world roosts in Bracken Cave, Texas where over 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) emerge from the cave in large columns to feed on surrounding farmland. This cave is a maternity colony, where females of this species migrate from Mexico every year to give birth.

 

  • The Brandt’s myotis (Myotis brandti) of Eurasia is the world’s longest-lived mammal for its size, with a lifespan that sometimes exceeds 38 years.

 

Bumbleebee bat
The bumblebee bat is not only the smallest bat in the world, but also
the smallest mammal in existence! Credit: Yushi Osawa
  • Bats range in size from the tiny Kitti's hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) – better known as the bumblebee bat – that weighs less than a penny; to the golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus), which weighs 2.6lbs and has a wingspan of up to 5’6”.

 

  • You’ve probably heard of bats being nocturnal..but what about diurnal? The Samoan flying fox (Pteropus samoensis) is the only bat species known to man that forages almost exclusively during the day!

 

  • With 1331 bat species worldwide, the range of habitats and diets of bats is highly varied. Bats are known to eat insects, fruit, nectar, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals and even other bats. The American false vampire bat (Vampyrum spectrum) for example is a top carnivore and isn’t afraid to chow down on smaller bats, frogs and many birds including doves.

 

False Vampire Bat
The False Vampire Bat (Megaderma lyra) from India hunts mice.
Credit: Stephen Dalton / Minden Pictures
  • Frog-eating bats identify edible from poisonous frogs by listening to the mating calls of the males. Frogs counter by hiding and using short, difficult-to-locate calls.

 

  • The pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) of western North America is immune to the stings of the scorpions and centipedes on which it feeds.

 

  • Fishing bats have echolocation so sophisticated that they can detect a minnow’s fin, as fine as a human hair, protruding only two millimeters above a pond’s surface. And African heart-nosed bats can hear the footsteps of a beetle walking on sand from more than six feet away.

 

  • The tube-lipped nectar bat (Anoura fistulata) of Ecuador has what is believed to be the longest tongue relative to body length of any mammal. Its tongue is up to 1½ times as long as its body.

 

  • The Honduran white bat (Ectophylla alba), with its yellow nose and ears, roosts in ‘tents’ it builds by nibbling on large leaves until they fold over.

 

  • Since at least 1974, biologists have known that some male bats sing very much as songbirds do, and they warble for the same reasons: to defend territories and to attract mates. Researchers have discovered that the tunes of some bats are even more complex and similar to bird song than first suspected. These bats’ melodies are structured, have multiple syllables, phrases, repeated patterns, and, of course, rhythm. Their songs also have syntax, meaning rules for how the phrases can be combined. But the rules are flexible, and a bat can improvise, singing a song his way. So far, scientists have identified 20 species of bat troubadours around the world.                                                 What's Singing Got to Do with It? - male lesser short-tailed bats (Mystacina tuberculata)                                                                      Don't be afraid to serenade - male hammer-headed bats (Hypsignathus monstrosus)

 

  • Bats are one of the diverse groups of animals on earth. Their faces alone vary from the puppy dog-look of fruit bats and flying foxes, to the compact faces of insect eaters and the long snouts of pollinators that reach deep into flowers for nectar. We think most bats are rather cute and endearing. Check out the video below and see what you think!

 

Everywhere

Bat conservation is particularly compelling because it impacts us all. If you think that you don’t live near bats or that your life isn’t impacted by bats, think again! Bats are literally everywhere – except for the regions surrounding the North and South poles, and remote islands. Unlike the picture painted by myths and superstitions, bats do not live their lives isolated in dark caves; rather, they interact on a daily basis with the same fields, forests, and waterways that we do. Likewise, their services to the environment, to agriculture, and to human health and welfare are available all around us, sustaining our ways of life. Whether you realize it or not, there is a close connection between bats and people around the globe, and so bat conservation is in our common interest, as the benefit is for all to enjoy.

Global Bat Species Richness

As the map above demonstrates, the areas of greatest bat diversity typically occur near the equator and in areas characterized by great biodiversity richness and varied habitat types. With at least 219 species, Indonesia has more bat species than any other country.

Bats in leaf
The Honduran white bat (Ectophylla alba) roosts under Heliconia
leaves in Central America. ©Konrad Wothe

This is owed in large part to the diversity of habitat offered by Indonesia’s archipelago of 13,000+ islands spread along the equator throughout Southeast Asia. Colombia comes in second, with at least 195 bat species. Its richness is due to the country’s vast array of ecological conditions comprised of coastlines with the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the high elevations of the northern Andes, the lush Amazon rainforest, and everything in between. Even apart from these countries with particularly high bat species richness, bats are uniquely adapted to live in virtually all environments. With more than 1,300 species of bats in the world, spread across six continents, and ranging in size from smaller than your thumb to as heavy as 2.5 lbs. (1.2 kg), it makes sense that different types of bats have evolved to live in different environments – from arid deserts to tropical rainforests, and everything in between. In fact, depending on the species and location, bats are known to spend time living in all of these types of roosts: caves, mines, rock and cliff crevices, tree hollows, plant foliage, tree bark, roofs of homes, attics, football stadiums, bridges, artificial bat houses, etc.

Bat house community
This large community bat house is located in
Elenor Klapp-Phipps Park in Tallahassee, Florida

With such great diversity and geographic spread, be assured that bats are nearby, and that their role in maintaining the health of local ecosystems and human economies is bigger than you realize.Bats are everywhere, and we wouldn’t want it any other way!









Threatened

The world is a dangerous place for bats. Although they provide vital environmental and economic services, bat populations are declining around the globe, largely as a result of human activity.

Such an example, is the plight of Fruit bats which have a brutally hard life in Sulawesi, an orchid-shaped island in the heart of Indonesia. A remarkable 22 species of fruit bats live on the island and some of them are found nowhere else. But their numbers are being decimated by overhunting for the commercial “bushmeat” trade, and their treatment on the way to market can only be described as torture.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 26 bat species as Critically Endangered, meaning they face an imminent risk of extinction. Fifty-one others are Endangered, and 954 bat species are considered Vulnerable. Bats also are among the most under-studied of mammals. The IUCN lists 203 bat species as “Data Deficient”– there is simply too little information available to determine their conservation status, and over 150 newly described species have yet to be added to the IUCN Red List and haveyet to be formally assessed.

Because bats reproduce slowly, with females of most species giving birth to only one pup per year, recovery from serious losses is painfully slow and tenuous at best. It is often difficult to spot significant declines in such species until their situation is dire.

Loss of habitat remains the most widespread peril worldwide. The forests many bats use for roosting and/or foraging for food are disappearing at a frightful rate – shrunken by timber harvests or cleared to make room for farm crops, mining operations, cattle pastures or cities. This is especially critical in the tropical rainforests, with both a rich diversity of bats species and a precipitous loss of woodlands.

Countless bats are being driven out of roosts in caves and abandoned mines because of inappropriate guano mining (bat droppings, or guano, are a valuable fertilizer) or thoughtless tourism. During the winter months, large numbers of bats hibernate in caves and mines. If roused from hibernation, often by human disturbance, bats can burn through the stores of fat they need to survive the winter.

In much of the world, bats are still casually killed because of harmful myths and misplaced fears. In Latin America, whole colonies of beneficial bats are routinely destroyed in the mistaken belief that all bats are vampires. (In reality, only three of the more than 1,300 bat species feed on blood and all are in Latin America.)

In regions such as Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands bats are hunted, both as bush meat for local consumption and commercially for markets and restaurants. Large, fruit-eating bats are the primary targets. Bats are also used in some folk medicines.

In North America, meanwhile, over 5.7 million of bats have been killed by White-nose Syndrome, a wildlife disease that continues its spread across the continent. Caused by a cold-loving fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, WNS attacks hibernating bats, causing mortality rates that approach 100 percent at some sites. The disease was first spotted in a cave in Upstate New York in February 2006 and has since expanded across the eastern half of the United States and Canada. Despite tireless scientific efforts to find a solution, the disease is still killing huge numbers of bats. Until the arrival of WNS, two Endangered U.S. species, the Indiana myotis (Myotis sodalis) and gray myotis (M. grisescens), were showing promising signs of recovery. That now seems doubtful. And scientists predict that the once common little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), will be reduced to just 1% of its pre-WNS population numbers by 2030.
 

Wind and Bats

The dramatic growth of wind energy throughout much of the world is also taking a huge toll on bats.

Scientists estimate that hundreds of thousands of bats are killed each year in the United States by collisions with the spinning blades of wind turbines or rapid pressure change at turbines that can rupture blood vessels. BCI and its partners have been working since 2004 to minimize bat fatalities at wind sites.

At least one cost-effective strategy has been shown to reduce the death toll, and conservationists are working to get it adopted.

Bats face a daunting array of mortal dangers in virtually every corner of the world. Bat Conservation International has been working since 1982 to ensure that these extraordinary bats will still be serving natural environments and human economies far into the future.

With your help, we can make the world safer for bats. 





 

Misunderstood

Bats are wonderfully beneficial creatures that provide invaluable services to both natural ecosystems and human economies around the world. Yet they are also among the most misunderstood of animals – routinely feared and loathed as sinister denizens of the night. Except in China, where bats have long been celebrated as symbols of good luck and happiness. Their images embellished the palaces, thrones and robes of emperors.

But things are different just about everywhere else, although they are improving through the efforts of groups like Bat Conservation International. When Merlin Tuttle founded BCI in 1982, he recalls some serious skepticism: “Even conservationists looked at me like: ‘Sure, next you’ll try to sell us on the virtues of rattlesnakes and cockroaches.’”

The Truth about Bats

Here’s a few of the common myths about bats – and the real story:

Blind as a bat

Forget it. Bats not only see as well as just about any other mammal, but most bats also use a unique biological sonar system called echolocation, which lets them navigate and hunt fast-flying insects in total darkness. Basically, the bat emits beep-like sounds into its path, then collects and analyzes the echoes that come bouncing back. Using sound alone, bats can see everything but color and detect obstacles as fine as a human hair.

Bats are flying mice

Nope. Bats are mammals, but they are not rodents. In fact, they are more closely related to humans than to rats and mice.

Bats get tangled in your hair

Get real. This was a common myth a few decades ago, but bats are much too smart and agile for that.

Bats are blood suckers

Well, there really are three vampire bat species (out of more than 1,300 bat species) that feed on blood; only one targets mammals. All vampire bats are limited to Latin America. Oh, and they don’t suck blood, they lap it like kittens with milk. And a powerful anticoagulant found in vampire saliva, which the bats use to keep blood from clotting, has been developed into a medication that helps prevent strokes in humans.

All bats are rabid

Not even close. Bats, like other mammals, can be infected with the rabies virus and some of them are. But the vast majority of bats are not infected. However, a bat that can be easily approached by humans is likely to be sick and may bite if handled. Simply do not touch or handle a bat or any other wild animal and there is little chance of being bitten. Teach children to never handle any wild animal.  




Bats Are Important

The Earth without bats would be a very different and much poorer place. More than 1,300 species of bats around the world are playing ecological roles that are vital to the health of natural ecosystems and human economies.

Many of the more than 1,300 bat species consume vast amounts of insects, including some of the most damaging agricultural pests. Others pollinate many valuable plants, ensuring the production of fruits that support local economies, as well as diverse animal populations. Fruit-eating bats in the tropics disperse seeds that are critical to restoring cleared or damaged rainforests. Even bat droppings (called guano) are valuable as a rich natural fertilizer. Guano is a major natural resource worldwide, and, when mined responsibly with bats in mind, it can provide significant economic benefits for landowners and local communities.

Bats are often considered “keystone species” that are essential to some tropical and desert ecosystems. Without bats’ pollination and seed-dispersing services, local ecosystems could gradually collapse as plants fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain. Consider the great baobab tree of the East African savannah. It is so critical to the survival of so many wild species that it is often called the “African Tree of Life.” Yet it depends almost exclusively on bats for pollination. Without bats, the Tree of Life could die out, threatening one of our planet’s richest ecosystems.

Pest control

Bat with butterfly

Insectivorous bats are primary predators of night-flying insects, and many very damaging pests are on their menu. Pregnant or nursing mothers of some bat species will consume up to their body weight in insects each night.

The millions of Mexican free-tailed bats at BCI’s Bracken Cave in Central Texas eat tons of insects each summer night. And a favorite target in the United States and Mexico is an especially damaging pest called the corn earworm moth (aka cotton bollworm, tomato fruitworm, etc.) that attacks a host of commercial plants from artichokes to watermelons. Worldwide crop damage from this moth is estimated at more than $1 billion a year, and research in 2006 concluded that freetails save cotton farmers in south-central Texas more than $740,000 annually. Throughout the United States, scientists estimate, bats are worth more than $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use. And that, of course, means fewer pesticides enter the ecosystem.

Learn more - Bats Worth Over $1 Billion to Corn Industry

Pollinators

Bat pollinating

From deserts to rainforests, nectar-feeding bats are critical pollinators for a wide variety of plants of great economic and ecological value. In North American deserts, giant cacti and agave depend on bats for pollination, while tropical bats pollinate incredible numbers of plants.

Most flowering plants cannot produce seeds and fruit without pollination – the process of moving pollen grains from the male part of the flower (the stamen) to the female part (the pistil). This process also improves the genetic diversity of cross-pollinated plants. Bats that drink the sweet nectar inside flowers pick up a dusting of pollen and move it along to other flowers as they feed.

A few of the commercial products that depend on bat pollinators for wild or cultivated varieties include: bananas, peaches, durian, cloves, carob, balsa wood, and agave. Find out more - six fast fact about pollinating bats!

Seed dispersers

Bat eating apple

Vast expanses of the world’s rainforest are cleared every year for logging, agriculture, ranching and other uses. And fruit-eating bats are key players in restoring those vital forests. Bats are so effective at dispersing seeds into ravaged forestlands that they’ve been called the “farmers of the tropics.”

Regenerating clear-cut forests is a complex natural process, one that requires seed-scattering by birds, primates and other animals as well as bats. But birds are wary of crossing large, open spaces where flying predators can attack, so they typically drop seeds directly beneath their perches. Night-foraging fruit bats, on the other hand, often cover large distances each night, and they are quite willing to cross clearings and typically defecate in flight, scattering far more seeds than birds across cleared areas.

And many of the bat-dispersed seeds are from hardy pioneer plants, the first to grow in the hot, dry conditions of clearings. As these plants grow, they provide the shelter that lets other, more delicate plants take root. Seeds dropped by bats can account for up to 95 percent of the first new growth. The pioneer plants also offer cover and perches for birds and primates, so they can add still more, different seeds to the mix that can lead eventually to a renewed forest. Bats have been reported dispersing the seeds of avocado, dates, figs, and cashews - among many others.

 

 

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