SciSun: Batty for Bats   Leave a comment

Bats aren’t just for Halloween, anymore. Well, bats have never been just for Halloween (and they probably don’t appreciate being crowded in with all the other Halloween symbols); and for bat researchers – sometimes referred to as chiropterists (bats belong to the scientific family Chiroptera), every day is bat day – and almost every day, scientists are learning more about these unique mammals, the important work they do in the environment, and how these fuzzy fliers make our lives easier. No, a bat researcher is not called bat-man. And a bird researcher is usually not named robin.

Bats can be found in almost every area of the world, and approximately 1200 species have been counted. Many of these are found on islands – which makes sense as the preferred food of many bats is fruit, flower nectar and insects, which are also conveniently found on islands – but bats also live in deserts, mountains, forests, and most anywhere else. And to survive and thrive in so many different environments, bats have developed many distinctive and sometimes extreme adaptations. However there aren’t any bats in barren arctic areas, where it’s too cold for smaller animals to survive and it’s impossible to fly with frosty wings. The same reason airlines can’t take off when there’s ice on their wings. And might also be why penguins don’t fly.

Two extremes on the bat-scale (also the name of a very small-animal-weighing-device), is the Townsend Big-Ear (Corynorhinus townsendii), who might not be the world’s biggest bat, but is certainly the bat with the biggest ears – so big, when folded back the ears can reach almost to the middle of the bats body. Towny the Bat (who, oddly, doesn’t live in any towns) has the ability to manipulate those ears almost any way he wants, from angling in different directions to folding them flat or even rolling them into a spiral ball to conserve energy. And since sometimes these bats roost – live together – in groups of hundreds or thousands, keeping those ears tight against the body probably helps keep the sound down, too. Most bats can’t afford ear buds.

Yes, they're big.  No, a hat won't help.

Yes, they’re big. No, a hat won’t help.

At another end of the spectrum we find the Western Pipistrelle (Parastrellus hesperus) – also known as the Canyon Bat – the smallest bat in the United States, and almost the smallest mammal in North America. (The prize for smallest mammal goes to a type of shrew. But we understand he’s working out and drinking protein shakes). Pipi the Canyon Bat is normally found in Southwestern deserts, but will travel as far as Washington and into Central Mexico. A small population has been found in Texas, which is odd because it’s said everything in Texas is bigger. Apparently no one told these bats. What’s also strange is that because these animals are so small they easily become dehydrated, which doesn’t seem like the best adaptation for living in the desert. But they’ve survived for thousands of years, and who are we to tell them to move.

So here are just two extreme examples of some of the many, many different types of bats that live not only in the United States, but throughout North America and the world. Bats are extremely important in every environment, from their insect-eating appetite to their fruit-pollination skills, and without bats our lives would be much harder, from insect infestations to lack of fresh fruits. Bats generally aren’t dangerous, nor will attack a human or larger animal, nor do they suck blood from peoples necks and then turn into vampires who move to the Pacific Northwest. (although that Canyon Bat does travel to Washington….hmmm). Although there are no bats in arctic areas, they sometimes dream of changing their image and being associated with a holiday other than Halloween. But it would take a lot of bats to pull Santas’ sled.


Michonne Says: Hey, I know a bat! He has normal-size ears. Maybe because his voice is really high, and you don’t need big ears to hear anything that high. And sometimes he eats bugs, which I don’t need to see. Phooey.

Posted November 17, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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