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Beautifully Beneficial Bats

Beautifully Beneficial Bats

If it were told that bats ate lots of insects, helped pollinate plants, spread seeds to replenish forests, provide fertilizer and even help develop drugs to save lives, would one believe that Bats are Beautifully Beneficial?   All of the above is true about these amazing mammals.  Chiroptera means winged hands.  These bats are divided into two groups:  the large bats (Megachiroptera)  and the small bats (Microchiroptera).  The Mega bats can be as large as two feet long, with wingspans of up to six feet.  Micro bats can be very small and weigh as little as a half ounce.  Bats have a long umbrella like wings and very thin finger like bones.  Some bats fly very fast, (up to 60mph) and others fly slowly.

Bats are nocturnal (Crepuscular), which means they sleep during the day and hunt for food at night.  As all mammals do, bats give birth to live babies.  The pup (a baby bat) drinks milk from the mother's breast.  Pups hold onto their mothers by hanging on her fur.  Each type or species of a bat has its own look.  Some bats have large noses, others a tail, some big long ears and some cute and small.   All bats share the following characteristics that include body hair, echolocation, and forelimbs that serve as wings.

Echolocation is what a bat uses to maneuver in the dark and find its prey.   The bat emits a sound (squeaks and clicks) and the sound hits its target and bounces back to the bat as an echo.  Bats' ears are far apart on their heads.   In this way, bats can interpret the echo, telling what an object is,  where it is,  and how fast it is traveling even if it is as small as a gnat.  Scientists believe each bat has its own sounds and they only hear their echoes in a crowded cave with several species of bats.

Bats live all over the world except in the Arctic and Antarctic.  Bats like to live in warm climates where food is plentiful.  Some bats migrate south in the fall.  They fly at night using flyways that migrating birds employ.  Most of the bats in North America do not migrate, they hibernate.  The settle in a cave or old mine and find a place to rest.  The bat then clings to the wall with its thumb and the hooked claws on its toes.  The bat cleans its fur, tucks its head inside its wings, and falls asleep for the winter.  As bats begin to get cold, they instinctively move toward other bats for warmth, and soon they are hanging in a tight cluster.  Each species forms a separate cluster in the cave.  As it sleeps, the heart rate slows and the bat uses very little energy.  They sometimes wake during hibernation and eat and drink.  Then the cold bats move toward the center,  and they go back to sleep.  In the spring, their breathing speeds up, their heart rate becomes faster and their bodies warm.  They preen themselves and begin to look for food again.  Some bats find a new roost each year and some always go back to the same roost.

Bats eat fruit and nectar.  Some eat insects, frogs, fish, birds, and yes, some even drink blood.  It is thought by many that bats attack humans and are large carriers of rabies.  Most myths about bats are untrue.  They are remarkable little mammals that are truly and beautifully beneficial to humans.

Bat Benefits

Insect Eating Bats - The Little Brown Bat (myotis lucifugus) can eat up to 600 mosquitos an hour.  One hundred fifty Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus), can consume as many as 18 million rootworms each year.  A long eared bat called the Pallid Bat (Antrozous Pallidus) can hear the walking insects like the grasshopper, scorpions and centipede.  These long eared bats keep the walking insect population under control.

Pollenating Bats - The Lesser Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris Curasoae) has a long nose that fits into a flower.  These bats have a long extendible tongue that allows then to lap up the nectar and at the same time, pollen covers their nose.  Then when it flies to the next plant, it pollenates that flower with the pollen on its nose.

Fertilizer Making Bats - Bats eat large amounts of extremely rich food very fast.  Therefore, bat waste (guano), is an excellent fertilizer.

Seed Spreading Bats - Short-tailed fruit bats (Carollia Perspicillata), live in the rain forests of South and Central America.  They eat fruit and they scatter the seeds as they fly.   Sixty-thousand seeds can be spread by one short-tailed fruit bat in one night.

Drug Making Bats - The Vampire Bats (Desmodus rotundus), of Africa have really helped the medical profession.   The bats' saliva acts as an anticoagulant and has been reproduced synthetically to help heart patients.

Resources: 

The World Wide Web & Encyclopedias & Bat Books
Books: Arkansas Bats: A Valuable Resource by Michael Harvey 
Bats by Sylvia A. Johnson 
Bats Swift Shadows in the Twilight by Ann Orr 
Bats for Kids by Kathryn T. Lundberg 
Beautiful Bats by Linda Glaser

Useful Links:

http://www.batcon.org
http://www.cccoe.k12.ca.us/bats/wings.html
http://home.earthlink.nrt/~jdwiggins/batbuild.html
http://www.solutions.ibm.com/ftp/activities/k3bat.txt

Project Author: Monica Smith


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