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Focus on Earth
by Artemis
Imbolc 2002, Vol 1-2
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bats in flight, Microsoft Design Gallery Live"The Bats are Coming! the Bats are Coming!"
The Bats Return in the Spring

Did you know that there are nearly one thousand kinds of bats? Of course, I'm referring to the kind that fly, not the kind that are used to hit baseballs! Well, bats constitute almost a quarter of all mammal species and they come in an amazing variety -- big-eared,sucker-footed,ghost-faced, silver-haired, big brown and little brown -- just to name a few.

Unfortunately, many myths about bats persist. Myths such as bats are blind, fly like bats out of hell, try to become entangled in human hair, are dirty and dangerous, are flying mice and otherwise do things that drive people batty or cause them to have bats in their belfries. Being referred to as an old bat or dingbat is less than complimentary. Actually, bats not only see as well as other mammals, they also use echolocation to detect objects as fine as a human hair in total darkness...which is how they can avoid getting tangled in your hair!

silver-haired bat, www.batcon.orgBats carefully groom themselves. They are among the cleanest of animals and are also exceptionally resistant to disease. Like any mammal, an occasional bat may contract rabies, but even sick bats are typically nonaggressive and will bite only if handled. Simply DO NOT HANDLE BATS and you need not fear them.

Most bats are highly beneficial, intelligent, extremely interesting, and possess fascinating abilities such as homing instinct and the ability to navigate by echolocation in complete darkness. Except for the most extreme desert and polar regions, bats live in almost every habitat worldwide, just as they have for more than 50 million years. Almost all United States bats, and 70 percent of bat species worldwide, feed almost exclusively on insects. In fact bats are the only major predators of night-flying insects. They typically eat more than 50 percent of their body weight in insects each night, and a nursing female may consume enough insects to equal her own body weight, as many as 4,500 or more small insects. Thus a summer colony of 1,000 bats weighing about 1/3 of an ounce each could consume 22 pounds of insects each night. That's 4,500,000 insects per night.

Because of this tremendous ability to control insect populations, bats are allies to agriculture. They are the primary predators of beetles, moths, leaf-hoppers, and other insects that cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars every year. A colony of just 150 big brown bats can eat enough cucumber beetles each summer to protect local farmers from 33 million rootworms, pests that cost up to a billion dollars annually. As an added bonus, they also devour mosquitos in our backyards.

Regrettably, we've let our ignorance jeopardize one of the earth's most valuable assets. Bat populations are in alarming decline worldwide. In North America, bats are the most endangered land mammals; more than half of all species are listed as endangered or are official candidates for listing. Like most animals, bats suffer from habitat loss and environmental pollution, but the primary cause of their decline is wanton destruction by humans. Because they nest in colonies and typically only produce one offspring per female each year, bats are the most vulnerable of any mammal. Loss of bats increases the demand for chemical pesticides and jeopardizes whole ecosystems of other animal and plant species, including many we rely upon for our health, comfort, and economic well-being.

The best protection we can offer these beneficial animals is to learn the truth about them and share it. You now know more about bats than most people on earth. So, please, share this information with others. Tell a friend. Teach a child or a parent.

You can also help by putting up a bat house on your farm or in your backyard. Bats return in the spring and are looking for a warm home. Bat houses can help attract bats away from your barn or attic and by attracting bats to your farm or yard, you will reap the benefits of reduced insect pests. To find out more information about bats and bat houses, contact Artemis.

Graphics Credits
bats, Microsoft Design Gallery Live
silver-haired bat, Bat Conservation International, used with permission

Further Resources
US Bats by State
Scott's Bat House Page
US Geological Survey's Bat Links Page
Bat Conservation International