Why Bats Matter
BAT WEEK IS AN ANNUAL, INTERNATIONAL CELEBRATION OF THE ROLE OF BATS IN NATURE
Why Bats Matter
Humans need bats. Worldwide, there are more than 1,400 species of bats—that’s almost 20 percent of all mammal species. Bats live almost everywhere on Earth except the most extreme desert and polar regions. So, no matter where you live, it is almost certain that there are bats living near you. Bats are amazing animals that are vital to the health of our environment and economy. Although we may not always see them, bats are hard at work all around the world each night. Most bats in North America eat insects, including moths, beetles, aquatic insects, and flies. A single bat can eat up to its body weight in insects each night. Eating all these insects helps protect our food crops and forests from insect pests, saving farmers and forest managers billions of dollars each year.
Consider these fascinating bat facts:
- Bats come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiny, adorable bumblebee bat that weighs less than a penny to the big, beautiful flying foxes that can have a wingspan of up to six feet.
- Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly (although some other mammals “glide”). A bat’s wing is actually a modified hand—similar to yours.
- Contrary to popular belief, bats actually have good eyesight (similar to that of humans), but for most species, their main technique for navigating or locating prey is using echolocation (not all species echolocate!): emitting very high- pitched sounds that bounce off obstacles in their path, like trees, other bats, buildings, and food. main target—delicious insects. Not all bats that echolocate are insectivores!
- Bats eat lots of different things. Although almost 70% of bat species feed primarily on insects, some bats are carnivorous, eating meat like rodents, frogs, and fish. Only three species of bats feed on animal blood, with two of these species specializing on bird blood. Many other bats eat pollen, nectar or fruit—these bats are vital for pollinating flowers and spreading seeds that grow new plants and trees.
Faces of Bat Week
Threats to Bats
Bats are in decline nearly everywhere they are found. These amazing animals face a multitude of threats including habitat loss, pesticide use, destruction of roost sites, over-harvesting for bush-meat, climate change; and much more.
Worldwide, about 24% of bats are considered critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable. Bat numbers in the United States and Canada have declined dramatically as a new disease, White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), has killed over six million bats in just eight years. This, coupled with impact from wind energy, habitat alteration, and roost disturbances, has caused serious decline in bat populations in North America as well as around the world.
Learn more about White-nose Syndrome:
Bats and Food
Open the kitchen cupboard and what do you see? Maybe a bottle of tequila, some yummy fig jam or maybe a huge block of chocolate. Have you ever wondered how these and many other food items may be connected to bats?
Believe it or not, many of the foods found on grocery store shelves and in kitchen pantries are products of bats’ interactions with nature. Three interactions, to be specific.
Pollination: Take the bottle of tequila, for example. Where does that distilled beverage hail from anyway? Most is made in Mexico, where the lesser-long nosed bat serves as bee substitutes, slurping up the sweet nectar from wild agave. In the process, pollen sticks to their bristled neck and is transferred to the next flower, sometimes many miles away.
Seed dispersal: And what about that fig jam? Before spreading it on your toast consider this: without bats, forests might be bereft of figs trees. There are more than 800 species of figs worldwide and bats play a large role in their dispersal. When bats munch on the juicy chunks of figs they spit out their seeds, or just let them leave the exit the body the natural way. In any case, their deposits often land in barren forests that could use the introduction of new seedlings.
And then there’s the chocolate: The cacao. Everyone loves it—including pests. Fortunately for devoted chocolate fans, there are bats. Some bats can eat half their weight in bugs, and by doing so decrease the need for harsh pesticides, and increase crop yields all around.
So the jury is out. Bats are our new best friend.
Especially when it comes to food.
More than 20 of our favorite foods have connections to bats through seed dispersal, pollination and pest control. Check out the Bat Week Cookbook to discover delicious recipes using ingredients made possible by bats.