The Kritter Korner
There are many things we think of when the word bat is spoken; such as Vampires, Dracula, rabies and diseases. Yes diseases are true but not as dramatic as is put out. All mammals can contract and carry rabies; however bats are not asymptomatic carriers of the disease. In reality, bats contract rabies far less than other animals. Less than 1/2 of 1% of all bats may contract the disease. A variety of wild animals (rabies vector species) can catch rabies, including foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes and bats. Cats and dogs and even livestock can also contract rabies. Bats are an asset to our eco system and survival, one bat can consume over a 1000 insects in one night. This keeps our corps from being infested and destroyed and our persons from being bombarded by insects every time we walk outside.
Bats are the only mammals that can fly. They are also among the only mammals known to feed on blood. Common misconceptions and fears about bats have led many people to regard the creatures as unclean disease carriers, but bats are actually very helpful in controlling the population of crop-destroying insects.
There are more than 900 species of bats in the world 47 of them live in the USA and 16 live in our great State of Alabama. Some experts estimate the number to be as high as 1,200 species. Bats make up one-fifth of the mammal population on Earth. Bats are divided into two main types: megabats and microbats. Megabats include flying foxes and Old World fruit bats. They tend to be larger than microbats, but some microbats are actually larger than some megabats. Flying foxes are the largest bats. Some species have wingspans of 5 to 6 feet and weigh up to 2.2 lbs. One of the smallest megabats, the long-tongued fruit bat has a wingspan of only 10 inches. This bat weighs about half an ounce. Among microbats, the largest species is the false vampire or spectral bat with a wingspan of up to 40 inches. It weighs 5 to 6.7 ounces. The smallest bat is the bumblebee bat. It grows to only about 1.25 inches long and weighs about 2 grams.
Bats live all over the world, except for some islands, and the Arctic and Antarctica. They mostly prefer warmer areas that are closer to the equator, and they can be found in rain forests, mountains, farmland, woods and cities. Bats have two strategies for weathering the cold. Some migrate to warmer areas, while others go into torpor. In this short-term form of hibernation, they reduce their metabolic rate which lowers its body temperature, and slows its breathing and heart rate. Bats roost in trees, caves, mines and barns, anyplace that provides shelter from the weather, protection from predators and seclusion for rearing the animals' young. Bats live together in groups called colonies, which contain 100 to 1,000 bats. These mammals are also nocturnal, meaning that they sleep during the day and are awake at night. Some may fly up to 31 miles to find food during their nightly journeys. In the day, they sleep upside down from trees or the roofs of caves, holding on with their sharp claws.
Most bats eat flowers, small insects, fruits, nectar, pollen and leaves, though it depends on the type of bat. Megabats usually eat fruits, and microbats generally eat insects. The Malayan flying fox has a big appetite. It can eat half its body weight every day. The vampire bat outdoes even that, though, eating twice its weight in one day. The brown bat can eat up to 1,000 small insects in an hour. Some bats will squeeze fruits in their mouths and drink the juices. Vampire bats like a juice of a different type, though. They do indeed drink blood, mainly from cattle and deer, but they don't suck blood like the legends say. Rather, they make a V-shaped cut and then lick up the blood.
Bats have some unique mating behaviors not seen in other animals. Male and female bats meet in hibernation sites, called hibernacula, where they breed. Bats 'swarm' around in huge numbers, chasing each other and performing spectacular aerobatics. It's not clear how the bats choose their mates, but it may be that females seek out the most agile males. During the swarming event, breeding pairs will go off to secluded spots in the cave to mate in private. Mating occurs in the late summer and early autumn, and the females store the males' sperm until the next spring. A pregnant female will carry her young for a gestation periods of 40 days to six months. Then, she will give birth to one baby, called a pup. The pup will weigh about one-fourth as much as its mother at birth. Young bats drink milk from their mothers to survive, much like other mammals. The mothers and pups stay in groups, separate from the males. The other mothers help take care of the pup until it is old enough to care for itself. Bats are essential to our eco system. Many bat species around the world are threatened with extinction. The Red list identifies more than 250 species as endangered, vulnerable or "near threatened."
The Bulmer fruit bat is the world's most endangered bat. It is only found in one cave in Papua New Guinea. According to the Red List, there are only around 160 individuals left in this colony. A fungus that causes a disease called white-nose syndrome has devastated bats in North America. This white, powdery-looking fungus, a member of a group of cold-loving fungi called Geomyces, coats the muzzles, ears and wings of bats and has meant death for hundreds of thousands of the animals in the northeastern United States. Bats "see" using echolocation. The animals make high-frequency yells and analyze the location of objects around them by perceiving how the sound bounces back off the object showing the angle at which sound bounces back can tell the bat the object's size. Some horseshoe bats can hover and pluck insects from spider webs. An anticoagulant in vampire bat saliva has been adapted for use in increasing blood flow in patients with stroke or heart disease.
There are 16 species of bats living in the State of Alabama:
Little Brown Myotis • Southeastern Myotis • Gray Myotis • Northern Long-eared Myotis
Small-footed Myotis • Indiana Myotis • Silver-haired Bat • Tri-colored bat • Big Brown Bat • Eastern Red Bat
Seminole Bat • Hoary Bat • Northern Yellow Bat • Evening Bat • Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat • Brazilian Free-tailed Bat