By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
Last week it was a snake, this week it’s a bat! In the grand scheme of things, bats are frightening creatures with their skinny little wings and their erratic flight patterns, but actually they are the most unique mammals on the planet. From keeping our insect population in check to using echolocation to locate food, bats deserve more credit than they receive.
First of all, they are one of the very few mammals that can fly. They are also one of the smallest mammals, some weighing about the size of a dime in the United States. In other countries, they are labeled as “flying foxes” because some have wingspans up to 6 feet. The greater mastiff bat native to California and Mexico has a wingspan reaching nearly 22 inches! No matter the size of the bat, their coordination in flight is amazing. They can instantly change trajectories and capture bugs in one swift movement. Part of this coordination is because they have the same intricate bones that make up a human’s hand. The exact wing biology of a bat is very complex and there are many individual bones and membranes working together. The most common time to see a bat in flight is around dusk because most bats are nocturnal. They are only seen active during daylight hours when the weather is very cold.
Secondly, bats are well-known for their use of echolocation. Contradictory to most beliefs, bats are not blind. Most people think because of their crazy flight patterns and sudden movements that they are blind. Bats actually have decent eyesight, but they rely mostly on their echolocation tools to locate food. Echolocation is the act of using tiny, high-frequency sound waves to locate objects and insects in a certain area. The bats use the “echoes” that bounce off the objects to figure out exactly where and what lies ahead of them. This technique allows them to pinpoint insects in complete darkness or avoid objects in their path. Many scientists have claimed bats “see with their ears”.
Lastly, bats are actually very beneficial to our ecosystem! They are one of the only predators of insects that come out at night and they are huge players in keeping mosquito populations at bay in Alabama. Bats can eat half their weight in insects and a nursing female bat will literally eat her weight in insects. Many people have constructed or purchased bat houses and have utilized them around their property. These bat houses give the bats a place to live and breed, but also share the benefits of the insect-eating mammals!
Like the Eastern Hognose, bats (there are over 900 species worldwide) are not the friendliest looking mammals, but they definitely do not deserve to be killed because of their physical appearance. I believe bats are fascinating creatures and anything that consumes mosquitos is on my good list. I’ll bet that the next time you are sitting outside during evening hours; you will be able to spot one or two bats fluttering about looking for bugs. If you have many bat inhabitants on your property, buy a few bat houses and see how the insect population decreases.
Harvey, Michael J., J. Scott Altenbach, and Troy L. Best. Bats of the United States. Little Rock: Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, 1999. Print.
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