Cute Creatures of the Night–Bats Part 1

Bats are unfairly characterized as one of Halloween’s scary icons, but the truth is they’re as cute as any puppy and a boon to gardeners. Learn more bat facts in this article I wrote for the Denver Post in August 2005. (Brown Bat photo credit: iStock)

Brown Bat BlogWhen Merlin Tuttle was growing up in Tennessee he made a remarkable discovery. The gray bats that resided in a cave near his home were migratory, which contradicted everything he had read about the bats.

“I got my parents to take me to the Smithsonian, where I politely informed leading authorities that I had found gray bats that seemed to migrate,” he recalled.

“They were impressed with my observations, gave me several thousand bat bands and suggested I band them to see where they were going.”

Tuttle banded over 40,000 bats and traced their migratory movements from northern Florida to northeastern Tennessee and from northern Alabama to Missouri. He used the migration data to write his doctoral thesis.

The data also showed that gray bats were headed for extinction. “The species was declining alarmingly which led to my conservation efforts and the founding of Bat Conservation International.” Today the gray bat population is well on its way to recovery.

The conservation group has worked since 1982 to educate the public about bats. For example,  all bats aren’t rabid, bats won’t attack humans, bats can’t get tangled in hair, they aren’t blind, and they aren’t flying rodents.

In spite of the positive public relations attempt, most people still shudder at the thought of a bat encounter. Would it help to know baby bats are called pups?

“They are cute as any puppy,” Tuttle said. “They are among the most gentle animals on earth, but people don’t understand them.”

Bats play a vital role in our environment and our economy. They disperse seeds, pollinate crops, and feast on insects. The world wouldn’t be as healthy if we didn’t have bats.

Bats consume tons of insects nightly—one brown bat can eat over 1000 mosquito-sized insects each hour. Economically speaking, bats provide a valuable service to farmers by eating agricultural pests like the corn earworm and armyworm moths.

And, if you’ve ever enjoyed a refreshing margarita, thank a bat. The blue agave plant, from which Tequila is derived, depends on bats as pollinators. “Seventy percent of all tropical fruits are reliant on bats for pollination or seed dispersal,” Tuttle said. The list includes bananas, plantain, figs, dates, avocados, mangos, papaya and guava.

“Gardeners may be surprised to learn that bats not only eat a lot of insects, they also scare the dickens out of them. Many of the worst pests listen for bat echolocation and flee when they hear bats.”

Bat Conservation International is based in Austin, Texas, the summer home to a massive bat colony. Austin always had bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge, but when the bridge was re-engineered in 1980, crevices underneath made for a perfect bat roost.

The Texas capital now hosts the largest urban bat colony in North America and over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats migrate there each year.

For those who are still afraid of bats, Tuttle said, “Less than two people die of rabies from a bat each year. But healthy dogs kill about 20 people a year and domestic violence takes about 10,000 people a year. So if you’re brave enough to own a dog or get married, you shouldn’t be afraid of bats.

Please consider becoming a member of BCI or participating in its Adopt-a-Bat program to help fund bat conservation efforts.


 

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Comments

What a wonderful, insightful story, Jodi. I’m looking forward to part two. Do you have any bats in your neighborhood? I don’t think I’ve ever seen any in mine.

No bat sightings around here–yet. Someday I want to see the bat flight in Austin. I heard it’s amazing.

There is a tiny brown bat hanging from an outdoor rug that I threw over the railing of the deck to dry after a rain. I noticed it there last night, but thought it might be a tree frog. This morning when I let the dogs out it was still there. I got a picture of it with my phone.

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