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Beneficial Bats


Bats may be the most misunderstood animals in the United States, although as consumers of enormous numbers of insects, they rank among the most beneficial. Almost all United States bats, and 70 percent of the bat species worldwide, feed almost exclusively on insects and are thus extremely beneficial. In fact, bats are the only major predators of night-flying insects. One bat can eat between 600 and 1,000 mosquitoes and other insect pests in just one hour (Organization for Bat Conservation).

While most United States bat species are insectivorous, bats in other parts of the world feed on a variety of items in addition to insects. Many species feed primarily on fruit, while several types feed on nectar and pollen. Fruit bats perform an extremely important function as seed dispersers. Nectar eating bats, including the federally-listed endangered lesser long-nosed (Leptonycteris curasoae yerbabuenae) and greater Mexican long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris nivalis), are important pollinators. Many plant species depend almost entirely on bats for pollination.

Of the 45 species of bats found in the continental United States, six are federally-listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. These species include the gray bat (Myotis grisescens), Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis),Ozark big-eared bat (Corynorhinus (=Plecotus) townsendii ingens), Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus (=Plecotus) townsendii virginianus) as well as the two long-nosed bats mentioned above. In addition to the listed continental U.S. species, the Hawaiian hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus semotus)(Hawaii), little Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus tokudae)(Guam) and Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus mariannus mariannus)(Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), are also listed as endangered. Twenty other species are considered to be of special concern and may be proposed for listing as endangered or threatened in the future. Populations of several of the remaining species, especially cave-dwelling species, also appear to be declining.

Common Misconceptions About Bats:

"All bats have rabies."
Less than 1% of bats carry the rabies virus (University of Florida). In addition, rabid bats are seldom aggressive. Fewer than 40 people in the United States are known to have contracted rabies from bats during the past 40 years. Far more people are killed by dog attacks, bee stings, power mowers, or lightning than rabies from bats. However, rabies is a dangerous disease so you should avoid direct contact with bats as well as other wild animals. The Center for Disease Control, USFWS, and Bat Conservation International have cooperatively developed a public health guide: Bats and Rabies.

"Bats get tangled in people's hair."
Although bats may occasionally fly very close to someone's face while catching insects, they do not get stuck in people's hair. That's because the bats ability to echolocate is so acute that it can avoid obstacles no wider than a piece of thread.

"Bats suck your blood."
By far the most famous bats are the vampire bats. These amazing creatures are found in Mexico, Central America and South America. Vampires feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals such as birds, horses and cattle. Vampire bats do not suck blood. The bats obtain blood by making a small cut in the skin of a sleeping animal with their razor-sharp teeth and then lapping up the blood as it flows from the wound. There is an anticoagulant in the bat's saliva that helps to prevent the animal's blood from clotting until the bat has finished its meal. The bat's saliva also contains an anesthetic that reduces the likelihood of the animal feeling the prick. Each bat requires only about two tablespoons of blood every day, so the loss of blood to a prey animal is small and rarely causes any harm.

"Bats are rodents."
Bats may resemble rodents in many ways, but they are not rodents. In fact, there is recent evidence that bats may be more closely related to primates (which include humans) than to rodents (Museum of Paleontology, University of California at Berkeley).

"Bats are blind."
Although they can't see color, bats can see better than we do at night (University of California at Berkeley). And, many bats can also "see" in the dark by using echolocation.

Source: U.S Fish and Wildlife Service from "Bats of the United States," by Michael J. Harvey,Tennessee Technological University; J. Scott Atlenbach, University of New Mexico; Troy L. Best, Auburn University.