Thursday, October 4, 2007

Bug Eating Heroes

Bats are blind. Bats have rabies and attack people. Bats fly into peoples hair. Bats are dirty.

These are all the rumors that people have made up about bats. A lot people see them as terrible creatures that attack people and whatnot. When really, they're very important creatures. Especially to gardeners... and really everyone.

The picture above is a bat skull that we found when cleaning out our barn. As you can tell, it fits perfectly at the tip of my pointer finger. The other picture is the wing of the bat. These are the only two bones that we found, but they're obviously from a bat. The thing that I love about the skull is that it looks just like a coyote or wolf skull, except it's the size of a thimble. Although the wing looks fragile, it's really quite a flexible bone. I would put a picture of bat with the flesh on it, unfortunately, those creatures fly so fast that it's near impossible to get a picture of them.

Probably what got people to start the rumor about them getting caught in people's hair, was when a bat was flying right at them, but the person probably got scared and ran before they could see that they wouldn't get hit. When I was leaning against the barn one time at dusk, I was watching the bats twist and turn and dive and fly. Then a bat swooped down and was coming straight at me, but when it was about six or seven feet away, it immediately flew up. Bats don't catch insects by eyesight (this is not true about bats around the world who feed on fruit). You might have heard of echolocation. Scientists use it to detect things underwater by sending sound waves, and seeing what objects bounce off. Bats let out high frequency sounds that humans can't hear. These sounds bounce off the insects and back to the bats sensitive ears. It also lets them avoid hitting large objects like buildings, trees, and of course, humans, which is how the one I saw didn't hit me. This very successful system, allows them to catch up to 3000 insects a night (including the worst, mosquitoes). This is why more and more people are starting to put up bat houses in their backyard.

People also aren't big on bats because they're often found in people's attics. Of course, it really is quite logical why bats would do this. Bats live in caves during the day. So when they're in an area where there are no caves, they look for places similar to caves. Where better than an open attic? People always creep out and call animal control when this happens, when really all they need to do is wait until the bats leave at dusk for feeding, then secure the hole the bats used.

One of the most common rumors -- bats have rabies and attack people -- is false too. About .05% of bats have rabies, and even if they do, they very rarely attack humans. And about the dirty thing, bats constantly groom themselves. So they're as clean as cats!

Bat watching is always best on summer evenings if you live up north. When the autumn frosts start, bats either hibernate until it's insect season again, or migrate down south. In fact, a tourist attraction in Austin, Texas, is the Congress Avenue Bridge where more than a million bats roost. So at dusk, people start to gather around the bridge, waiting for huge clouds of bats to come out and start hunting!

Gardeners and farmers, especially corn farmers, should be quite thankful for bats. Moths very often lay their eggs on corn, and when the caterpillars hatch, they start feasting and ruining the corn. Bats eat the moths that lay these eggs. So the bats can help prevent farmers' corn from being ruined!

All in all, bats are wonderfully important creatures that should be loved and well protected. If bats became extinct, the corn industry would probably go downhill, and the mosquito population would skyrocket. It's the same thing with sharks. If sharks become extinct, then the seal population with get so high, that the seals would run out of fish to eat, and saltwater fish companies would die.

Three cheers for bats!


Anonymous said...

What are "bat houses", and how are they different from bird houses?

Also, did you know that some blind people are no using echolocation to see? They walk and making clicking noises with their mouths and listen to the echo (or lack of) to determine where things are.

Katherine said...

Bird houses are basically boxes with a lid on top and a hole for the bird to go in and out of. There are different designs for bat houses, but there all basically tight flat compartments that they roost in at night. There's a good picture here.

And no, I didn't know that! How cool!