As a recent transplant from the Midwest to the Arizona desert, I have encountered so many new types of animal species. I had expected to stumble upon black widows and scorpions but was a little bit surprised by some of the other little critters that I have come across. One night, my husband and I took our pup to our local dog park. As we watched our mutt run and play, we heard squeaking from overhead. I thought it was some type of bird and didn’t think much of it. Then my husband said something to the effect that the bats were out tonight, which was a little unsettling for me. I know bats exist in the Midwest, but I have never gone camping or lived in an area where I would encounter them. I recently thought about this experience and, since Halloween is right around the corner, it seemed fitting to learn a little bit about these misunderstood creatures of the night.
Bats get a bad rap. People tend to fear them based on legends and misinformation. Often bats, especially young ones, can get confused and mistake an open window or attic for a safe place to hang out. If you do encounter a bat in your home, Bat Conservation International has great instructions for safe removal. Bats do not go out into the night with the intention of bothering people. They are way more interested in yummy insects, especially those that feed on gardens and farm crops. Some bats can eat 1,000 insects in one hour and pregnant bats can eat their whole body weight in bugs! This makes them incredibly awesome pest controllers. People also tend to associate bats with rabies. While this is true, only a very small portion of the bat population is infected.
While most bats consume insects, the second largest population eats nectar and pollen. So not only are they great at pest control, bats are also awesome at dispersing seeds and pollinating. The remaining one percent of the bat population feed on animals other than insects, with three species that are, indeed, vampire bats! Vampire bats live mostly in South America, feeding mostly on cows and horses. They pierce the skin with their teeth and lap flowing blood like a kitten. Never worry though, they do not eat enough blood to harm the animal.
There are up to nine species of bats that are considered threatened or endangered in the United States alone. The biggest threats are habitat destruction through development projects, climate change and human fear. Wind turbines built in direct paths of migratory patterns often cause disastrous collisions for these little guys. White Nose Syndrome is also a devastating disease that is spreading rapidly throughout hibernating bat populations mostly in the Northeastern United States and most often affecting insect eating bats. It has a 95% mortality rate and has caused millions of bat deaths. Since bats usually only have one pup per pregnancy, this kind of dramatic drop in bat population is surely felt by farmers depending on bats to assist in pest control.
After learning a little bit about how awesome bats are, I bet you are wondering what else you can do to help. You can build a bat house in your habitat, attract bat friends to come to help you with your pest needs and help provide them with a safe space. If cohabitation with bats isn’t your thing, you can also check out Defenders of Wildlife. They have a great resource page where you can find out how to get involved in conservation efforts and even adopt a stuffed, cuddly bat and have your donation go to a worthy cause.
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Photo: Lee Carson