By Vern and Lori Gieger
Move over, Dracula!
What animal can eat over 600 mosquitoes an hour and ensure you’ll have bananas for your breakfast? Bats. Bats are fascinating creatures ranging from the size of a mouse to that of a small cat. There are over a 1000 species of bats found throughout the world. Unfortunately they are also probably one of the most misunderstood and persecuted animals. There are many myths and legends surrounding them—from Dracula to rabies. We all know that Dracula doesn’t really exist, and as far as rabies is concerned, less than ½ of one percent actually has rabies. A person is far more likely to contract rabies from an unvaccinated cat or dog.
Out of the 1000 or so species of bats, only three species are vampire bats. Vampire bats are relatively rare, typically found around farms, as they primarily feed on horses and cattle; their bite is very small, and due to numbing compound in the bats’ saliva, the host seldom even feels the bite. Vampire bats are intriguing, caring creatures, despite their eating habits.
However, the majority of bats about 70% are insectivores, and they are the only major predator of night-flying insects. Bats hunt a variety of insects, and are capable of consuming over 600 mosquitoes an hour. Because insects are capable of laying thousands of eggs each, bats are vitally important in maintaining the balance of nature. Large colonies such as the Mexican free tails eat 50,000 or more kilos of insects each night!
For every one bug a human exterminator kills, a bat kills 999 more! So now you know they eat gobs of bugs. Others like the fruit bats as their name suggest eat mostly fruits, and by doing so are great pollinators and seed distributors. They do more than just pollinate such things as peaches, avocados, mangos and bananas.
The next time you sip on a margarita or have a shot of tequila, pause for a moment to reflect on the contribution made to the tequila industry by some long-unacknowledged entity—the long-nosed bat. These bats are the main pollinators of the agaves plant. The relationship between the two may seem obscure, but the association is so strong that the disappearance of one would threaten the survival of the other.
The Mexican long-nosed bat is declining in numbers. Where there were once thousands, few remain. The blue agaves are losing their pollinators. Without the bat, seed production is one-three-thousandth of the normal amount. Many other plants that depend on the long-nosed bat for their reproductive success are important habitat components, providing food and shelter for a large variety of other animal species, from lizards to woodpeckers.
In this sense long-nosed bats are keystone mutualists, being part of ecological interaction that would be seriously disrupted by their disappearance. Furthermore because of their migratory habits, they are also mobile links, connecting habitats that would otherwise lack interchange.
Bats are among the most vulnerable to extinction of any animal on Earth. Most females have only one baby each year. Others may require up to five years to deliver just two surviving offspring. Many bat populations are estimated too have declined by as much as 90 percent in only 20 years and are now endangered. The loss of bats would have disastrous, even irreversible consequences. How many bats can we lose before their number become to few to service the rainforests and other ecosystems? Just one bat may transport as many as 60,000 seeds to new locations in a single night. Even a small colony of bats can, therefore, account for enormous numbers of new seedling being planted every year.
Although they may not be the most loveable animal, we need to protect them. They are too valuable to lose, not only as pollinators, insect predators, etc. but as important indicator species. So go ahead have another margarita, or shot of tequila; a hangover is only temporary. But extinction is forever.