With Halloween fast approaching, Pink Goes Green thought we would look into the truth about vampires -- as in vampire bats.
It turns out that the much-maligned, often feared creature of folklore and, of course, the horror movie (e.g., "Dracula," "Horror of Dracula," "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," "Love at First Bite," etc.), is actually an essential part of the ecology and survival of this planet.
Ecologically-speaking, bats are vital because many of the bat species are the primary pollinators of certain plants, especially those that bloom nocturnally. While bees and birds help pollination and the spreading of seeds during the day, the bats take over this role at night. Many species of plants would disappear without the bats' help -- with obvious disastrous results for the environment. They also serve as essential seed dispersers with a major role in regenerating rainforests.
In addition to this important contribution to pollination and plant seed dispersal, many species of bats help to keep the insect population in check. A common brown bat, for example, can eat as many as 600 mosquitoes in an hour. See the recent article, Bats Worth Billions to Agriculture.
Centuries of myths and misinformation still generate needless fears and threaten bats and their habitats around the world. Bat populations are declining almost everywhere. Losing bats would have devastating consequences for natural ecosystems and human economies.
The more than 1,100 species of bats - about one-fifth of all mammal species - are incredibly diverse.
Only three species, all in Latin America, are vampires. They really do feed on blood, although they lap it like kittens rather than sucking it up as horror movies suggest. Even the vampires are useful: an enzyme in their saliva is among the most potent blood-clot dissolvers known and is used to treat human stroke victims.
Vampire bats are believed to be the only species of bats in the world to "adopt" another young bat if something happens to the bat's mother. Vampire bats also share a strong family bond with members of the colony, which is believed to be why they are the only bats to take up this adoption characteristic.
Only 0.5% of bats carry rabies. The highest occurrence of rabies in vampire bats occurs in the large populations found in South America. However there is less risk of infection to the human population than to livestock exposed to bat bites. Although most bats do not have rabies, those that do may be clumsy, disoriented, and unable to fly, which makes it more likely that they will come into contact with humans.
You can even build a bat house in your own back yard! You might wonder why you need to build a bat house. Why can't the bats just find a nice tree? That is the challenge for many bat species as forests are cleared. Ideally they would live in a natural home but we build bat houses to help those who can't find space in a forest. Find instructions on how to build your bat house here.
There is even an organization devoted to the conservation of the bat: Bat Conservation International. And the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is urging people to adopt a vampire bat at Halloween or any time during the year. The WWF program of species adoption (there are many animals to choose from) is a great way to give a gift that will help protect the future of nature. Your symbolic adoption supports WWF's global efforts to protect wild animals and their habitats.
Some Fun Bat Facts
- Bats make up one fourth of the mammals on this planet.
- There are over 1,000 species of bats. They come in all sorts of different sizes, shapes, colors, and habits. There are species of bats with six-foot wings spans and species of bats less than an inch in size (about the size of a bumblebee!).
- Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly. Their wings are elongated bones (essentially, their arm and hand bones), covered by a translucent but strong leather-like skin. Chiroptera, the scientific name for the Order of bats, incidentally, means "hand-wing."
- Different species of bats eat different things: insects, fruit, pollen, and small animals are among some of the dietary preferences of some of the species. About 70% of bats feed on insects; 20% on fruit and nectar from blooming plants. Others feed on fish and sometimes small animals. There are only three species of so-named vampire bats that feed on the blood of other animals (usually cattle). They do not suck the blood; they lap it after making a small incision. These bats, probably more than any others, are the ones that have sometimes enthralled and unnecessarily frightened the morbid imaginations of humans for eons, who in turn cast aspersions on the whole of bats.
Bat Conservation International
Bats: A Personal Essay
Wikipedia: Vampire Bats
National Wildlife Federation
Updates: Save Our Bats
Bats Worth Billions to Agriculture
Petition Aims to Protect Tricolored Bats From Disease, Habitat Loss