Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 28, 2008
By Melody Bell Wilkes
For the Salisbury Post
Q. What are bats?
A. Bats are mammals that are closely related to primates and humans. They aren’t related to mice.
Q. How many bat species are there in the world?
A. It’s estimated at close to 1,000 different species, or a quarter of all mammal species.
Q. What are the two main types of bats?
A. Microchiropterans are small bats that eat primarily insects. They have small eyes with good eyesight. Even though they have good eyesight, they use echolocation sounds emitted from their larynx and nose to hunt for food at night and be aware of surrounding objects. They hibernate in winter in what’s called “torpor.”
Megachiropterans are large bats called fruit bats or “flying foxes” since they have fox-like shaped faces. Their large eyes and good sense of smell guides them to the fruit hanging from trees. They live in tropical climates.
Q. What do bats eat?
A. They eat all sorts of things, depending on the type of bat. Some feed on insects, blood, fish, fruit, pollen, nectar and even other bats.
Q. What animals like to eat bats?
A. Natural predators include raccoons, opossums, skunks, snakes, owls and hawks. In some countries, people eat flying foxes, which are sold in neighborhood markets.
Q. Do bats get caught in your hair?
A. Bats avoid people and wouldn’t normally get tangled in your hair. If mosquitoes are flying, bats will try to eat the mosquitoes. They want nothing to do with you.
Q. Do bats carry rabies?
A. As in all mammals, bats can carry rabies. Only half of 1 percent of bats are estimated to carry rabies. To be safe, never handle a wild bat.
Q. What should I do if I find a grounded bat?
A. Bats feel safest in high places. Their means of escaping from predators is to fly away. If caught, they will try to bite. Bats on the ground are probably not healthy and should not be touched.
Q. What should I do if a bat is living in my attic?
A. Be thankful, since they are eating lots of harmful insects like mosquitoes and pests that eat your garden. If you have to have one removed, visit www.batcon.org for eradication options.
Q. Why should I care about bats?
A. Bats are the primary hunters of night flying insects. One small bat can consume up to 1,200 insects in one hour. By controlling harmful insect populations, bats also reduce the need for pesticides. Fruit bats are the main pollinators of peaches, avocados, bananas, mangoes, cashews and more. Agriculture practices rely on wild plant stocks to help strengthen genetic diversity and disease control in cultivated crops. In Africa, fruit bats are responsible for 90 percent of the rain forest regrowth due to seed dispersal. Bats sonar abilities are also being studied for military defense operations. Plus in the medical field, vampire bat saliva is being studied to help heart patients.
Melody Wilkes is owner of A Walk in the Woods, an environmental education company that provides outreach wildlife programs. Contact her at 704-436-9048 or visit www.awalkinthewoods.us.