SciSun: Hollow-weenie   Leave a comment

As Halloween creeps ever closer, each day we are confronted with more and more signs of the season that most of us don’t think about during much of the year: Witches on broomsticks; ghosts and ghouls rising from graves; skeletons dancing in the moonlight; monsters of all sorts invading our dreams; and bats descending from the black night sky. But of all Halloween characters with their scare and their doom and their gore, bats don’t really fit into this pattern and in fact are getting a raw deal by being included with this questionable group. Bats, it seems, are a very important – many would say irreplaceable – part of a healthy environment, and actually provide incalculable service to humans by eating insects that would otherwise destroy plants and over-run the earth. So who’s the monster, in that story?

But if bats are our friends, how did they get mixed up among all those shady signs of Halloween? The connection probably goes back thousands of years, possibly far into history when humans were afraid of many different things, and no one has the exact answer but it possibly has something to do with early humans, late at night, gathering around fires which they believed would protect them from all the dangerous animals, evil spirits, and other unknowns of the darkness, as most animals avoid flames. But just when our great-great-great-and greater grandparents thought all was safe, bats would appear, fly around and above the fires hunting insects (who were attracted to the light and the heat), and freak out everyone who thought the fire would protect them from the wilderness waiting to attack from the black void beyond. And, because bats were about the only animal that fire wouldn’t keep away, but they actually seemed to enjoy it, obviously bats were accustomed to fiery, hot, dangerous places and that associated them with the Underworld and infernal, punishing eternity; then someone noticed bats flying around animals that had recently died (again, hunting flies and other insects) so obviously the bats killed these animals, and then drank their blood, and they’ll do the same to you! Plus, they fly but they’re not birds so they must be un-natural, accursed creations; and they are silent as the darkest night, making no noise at all until they are so close you hear the flutter of their wings and then it’s too late!! Yes, humans can easily make up stories about anything they don’t understand.

Most bats hunt for insects.  Others like to hit the salad bar first.

Most bats hunt for insects. Others like to hit the salad bar first.

In reality, bat are flying mammals, exhibiting some of the same behaviors as other mammals like horses, dogs, and humans. There are about 1,200 species of bats in almost all areas of the world, totaling approximately one-quarter of all mammals. Bats are the only free-flying mammal (sorry, flying squirrels – you actually just glide, not really fly), and have evolved to be mainly active at night; not because they don’t like daylight but because there’s less competition and often more flying insects. While they’re aren’t the only mammal, or animal to eat insects (birds, reptiles and amphibians probably take that title), bats do eat the most insects at any one time. In areas that hold large bat colonies – often a million or more individuals – the colony can eat between 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects each night. Even relatively small numbers of bats, which can often, and surprisingly to most people, be found in urban areas such as under bridges; among the artificial ‘cliffs’ and ‘canyons’ created within dense downtowns; and even in the parking garage of the Las Vegas airport – can each night eat enough insects to fill two grocery bags. (The bats don’t actually fill grocery bags every night. It’s more a grab-n-go). Throughout North America almost all bats are insectivores, helping control the potential overpopulation of insects, but in the southwest and Mexico we can also find nectar-eating bats that help pollinate cactus and agave plants, the type that’s used to make tequila. We can only hope all those bats drink responsibility, or at least choose not to drink and fly.

So in honor of the humble bat and all it does for us, this week – October 26 through November 1 – is National Bat Week. While that probably won’t mean much to the bats who will just go on sleeping during the day, hunting at night and doing all the things bats do, it does give us the opportunity to think about the many unseen, unknown, and misunderstood plants, animals, and wild places that together make the world home to us all. And isn’t trying to recognize and understand the misunderstood a better way to spend the week, than running from make-believe terrors and and made-up, empty horrors?


Michonne Says: The little night-mice (men call them ‘bats’) can fly, but it’s sad because they can’t walk very well and can’t run or jump at all. I would rather run and jump than fly. Unless there are flowers high on a hill that I can’t walk to, then I’d rather fly.

Posted October 26, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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