Monday, July 03, 2006

Order Chiroptera - Bats!

What can I say. I love bats. Saddly, I am one of only a few people who feel that way. Bats are one of the most misunderstood animals around. There are more myths and unfounded fears about bats than almost any other animal out there. I know grown men who are so afraid of bats that upon seeing one, they freak out, panic and smash the bats with their shoe. So unnecessary and so unfortunate.

Bats are mammals and part of their scientific name means "hand wing". Very appropriate description, as a bat's wings are actually modified hands with a layer of skin stretched between them. Bats are not birds, nor are they mice with wings. Bats actualy have very little in common with mice; about the only commonality is that they are both mammals.

There are over 1000 species of bats in the world. They live almost everywhere, except the polar regions and some remote islands. They range in size from smaller than a walnut to a wing span of over 6 feet. The majority of bats eat insects. They also eat fruit, pollen, other animals and, yes, three species of bats live solely on blood. Contrary to popular belief, vampire bats do not "suck" blood. They make a small cut in another animal such as a cow or chicken, and lap up the blood like a dog.

Most bats in the United States eat insects. These bats consume hundreds of tons of insects a night. A single Little Brown Myotis can eat around 600 + insects in an hour. That's a whole lot of insects. Other bats are responsible for pollinating several different plants including banannas, mangos, cashews, dates and agave.

There are several popular myths about bats that are pretty funny, but not quite true. One myth is that bats will get stuck in your hair. Their ecolocation is so precise, so accurate, they can detect the ripple of water where a fish has just surfaced. They can tell the size, shape, direction of movement and location of their food, obstacles and other such things as people's heads. Why would they get stuck in your hair? I could see them swooping down to snatch up an insect flying close to someone's head, and having them freak out, wave their hands above their head and knock the bat into their hair.

Another myth about bats is that they are blind. Acutally, no bat is blind. And some can see extremely well. Fruit bats use only their eyesight and sense of smell to find their food. Their ecolocation, if they have it at all, is very poor.

But what about rabies? Aren't bats filthy little creatures that harbor rabies? Well, they are wild animals, and just like any other wild animal, some do have rabies. Some, but not all. Bats actually clean themselves much like cats, and are in fact, very clean animals. Some do have rabies, but like I said, so does any other wild animal. Over the past 50 years, one case per year of bat caused rabies has been reported. Compare that to the 20 people who die every year from dog bites. The best thing to do, is just not try to pick up or hold a bat if you come across one.

Bats are just so amazing. I love to watch bats in flight. They are truly remarkable fliers, and very amazing animals in general.

I'm sure I could go on, but I'll spare you. For more on bats, click on the title of this entry and it will take you to Bat Conservation International.

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