By Julie Javorka, Education Intern
Potter Park Zoological Society
Bats. Many people have a negative image of these mysterious creatures of the night and many myths surround them. For the record:
- They are not blind.
- They do not become tangled in people’s hair.
- There are only three species of vampire bats.
- There are more than 1,000 species of bats and they are found on all continents except Antarctica.
- They make up 30 percent of mammal species. Pretty amazing, right?
Unfortunately, bats face many different threats. Like many other animals, they are threatened by habitat loss and deforestation. The caves and mines where bats roost have been disturbed by humans. Toxic pesticides are sometimes used and bats are killed by some farmers although they do not cause as much damage as other animals. In some countiies, they are overhunted for food and traditional medicine. Wind turbines also kill some bats.
In North America, many bats have been killed by white nose syndrome, a fatal disease caused by a fungus which causes bats to wake up too early from hibernation and use up their energy reserves.
Bats are very important ecologically and economically.
- They act as predators and prey for other animals. They are great bioindicators. Since bats are high on the food chain, toxins such as pesticides accumulate in them. This allows scientists to tell how the rest of the ecosystem is doing.
- Bat guano (feces) moves nutrients between different places, is used by other creatures, and is used by humans as fertilizer and in detergents and other products.
- Salivary Plasminogen Activator (DSPA) from the saliva of the common vampire bat is used for stroke patients.
- Bats are the top nocturnal predators of insects that are pests for agriculture and forests. With fewer pests, less pesticides must be used, reducing the effects on biodiversity and human health.
- Some bats disperse seeds and pollinate plants, For example, agave, the plant used to make tequila, is pollinated by bats.
What can you do to help bats?
The great news is that you can help bats at home! You can create a bat garden and build or buy a bat house. You can find more information about both of these projects on the website for the Organization for Bat Conservation. You can also become a bat ambassador through this organization. You can donate to help save bats. Two great organizations are the Organization for Bat Conservation and Bat Conservation International. Also, make sure to visit the Seba’s short-tailed fruit bats at Potter Park Zoo. Their new exhibit will be finished soon!