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A Wilder View: Bats are the superheroes of the night

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Posted at 10:56 AM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 13:01:05-04

Frightening, terrifying, and awful are all words commonly associated with bats — but in reality, these mysterious flyers are heroes of the night.

Although some people may not realize it, bats do impact our daily lives.

They’re a crucial species that pollinate some of our favorite fruits while also consuming bothersome insects — and even help with some medical advancements.

There are more than 1,400 species of bats worldwide, with 40 species in the United States. More than a dozen species call Montana home.

They range in sizes from being lighter than a penny like the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat — making it the world’s smallest mammal — to having a wingspan of six feet, like flying foxes.

If it weren’t for bats we could say goodbye to bananas, avocados, and mangoes. More than 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination.

They also help spread seeds through their droppings called guano — which is one of the richest fertilizers. Selling guano was once a booming business. It was actually Texas's largest mineral export before oil!

And insects beware! Bats are at the forefront of pest control and can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour. Bats often consume their body weight in insects every night.

Bats eat so many insects that studies estimate their economic impact to be more than $1 billion per year in avoided crop damage and pesticide costs in the U.S. corn industry alone.

Additionally, the entire agricultural field in the U.S sees savings of at least $3.7 billion per year and possibly as much as $53 billion per year.

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Fewer insects buzzing around means there are fewer chances of diseases like malaria and the West Nile virus.

Overall, nearly 80 types of medicines come from plants that rely on bats to survive.

Researchers are studying bats to understand their exceptional tolerance to DNA damage, parasites, and viruses. They are looking to find ways to improve human resilience to RNA viruses like coronaviruses or Ebola, parasites like malaria, and DNA damage from cancers.

Scientists have also been studying the saliva of bats in an effort to develop a medication for stroke patients.

Ever heard the phrase “blind as a bat”? That statement is actually false.

The truth is all bats can see, and they can actually see in what we would consider pitch-black conditions. The phrase actually came from the behavior bats exhibit when flying in a zigzag pattern.

Even though vision may be less important than other senses, to locate and catch prey bats use an acoustic orientation called echolocation which is the reason they fly in that zigzag pattern.

Studying how bats use echolocation has helped scientists develop navigational aids for the blind.

More than half of the bat species in the U.S are in severe decline or listed as endangered. Their biggest threat is a disease called White-Nose Syndrome which affects hibernating bats and has been detected in 37 states and seven Canadian provinces.


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