October is the perfect time to celebrate bats! Bat Week, October 24th through 31st, is an international, annual celebration that aims to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation. Bats are incredibly important to the health of our natural ecosystems & to our world economy, they are terrific pollinators & keep our insect populations under control but they are also some of the most misunderstood animals. Visit www.batweek.org for more information & some great activities to help you get in the spirit & celebrate Bat Week!
Bats are commonly confused as being birds or even insects but they are actually mammals. They are the only mammals with the ability to fly but like all mammals they have hair or fur (not feathers), are warm blooded, and experience live birth. With over 1,400 different species these creatures account for almost 20% of mammal species & their wingspan can range from 1.25 inches to over 5 feet! Bats live almost everywhere on earth & Iowa is home to 9 species of these amazing mammals.
Bats face a number of challenges to their survival & safety, from habitat loss to disease, but one of the biggest threats they face is from human misconceptions. Bats & their unusual appearance & behavior have given rise to a large amount of folklore that impacts the way some humans think about, relate to, & interact with them.
Bats Aren't Blind!
Bats actually have pretty good eyesight, similar to humans, but some species (not all) use process called echolocation to navigate & hunt. Special soundwaves are sent out by the bat & bounce off their surroundings, including prey, helping them to hunt or just get around in the dark safely.
Why do Bats Hang Upside Down?
It may seem creepy & odd to humans but there's a very good reason for this behavior. When bats hang upside down their muscles lock into place. This allows the bat to remain in place with very little to no effort, conserving their energy for more important activities.
What About Vampire Bats?
Bats eat a lot of different things. Over 70% of all bats eat primarily insects (thank you bats!), others are carnivores that will eat frogs, fish & rodents, and other bats eat pollen, fruit, or nectar & are important pollinators in many areas. Only three species feed on animal blood, two of those almost exclusively on bird blood, & all three species are found in Central & South America. They do occasionally bite humans in those areas but it is very uncommon.
Are their Wings Scaly?
Bat wings are made of up the same bones you & I have in our hands & are connected by epidermal tissue, or skin, just like us! Think about bats as the mammals with the best jazz hands & they will look less scary!
What about Rabies?
Studies show that less than 1% of bats are infected with rabies which is a very small number, and most bats you see from a distance in the wild are doing just fine & pose no threat to you & I. Potential contact with a bat, a bite or a scratch or contact with saliva, should be reported to a physician just to be on the safe side but rabies is preventable with proper care after exposure.
Don't forget to check out www.batweek.org for more information on Bat Week & bats around the world along with great activities like bat coloring pages, origami patterns, bat info sheets, & more!
To learn more about bats of Iowa visit the Iowa State University Extension & Outreach website here.
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