Throughout history, humans have had complicated relationships with bats. While most people would agree that bats are beneficial mammals that make the world a bit more comfortable for us, there is a particular “icky” factor to the species that make us want to avoid them as much as possible.
Bats are Incredibly Diverse
There are nearly 1,500 different bat species on the planet. Bats are also one of the most diverse groups of mammals, second only to rodents. But of those almost two thousand different species, one in particular, the infamous vampire bat, stirs the most fear for people.
There are currently three different vampire bat species, and they are the only known creatures in the world that feed exclusively on blood. The lineage of these bats began over 25 million years ago with a split from their genus into a unique species. This single species was divided into two in just under 22 million years. This is considered one of the fastest examples of natural selection ever observed between mammals.
The vampire bat has been incredibly beneficial to the human community, notably through the development of Draculin. Draculin is a medication currently used to treat stroke patients and was developed from bat saliva.
These bats have evolved with a thermoreceptor on the nose that helps locate where the blood is closest to the skin, allowing for more efficient feeding time. Although their wings are much stronger, vampire bats can actually run on their hind legs.
Vampire bats are right at home inside of hollow trees, caves, and other dark places and tend to live in colonies made up of anywhere from several dozen to many thousands. These bats are not particularly prevalent in North America and tend to prefer the more humid climates of South America, Central America, and Mexico.
Bats Come in Many Species
The United States is home to nearly 50 different types of bats. The Hoary bat and the Little Brown bat are two of the most common in the United States. The Hoary bat is so named due to its dense, dark brown, white-tipped coat.
While other bat species tend to live in large colonies or groups, this bat species tends to lean toward a more solitary existence, and it frequently roosts alone. The Hoary bat is somewhat of a snowbird in that they spend the summer months in the eastern US and Canada and then spend the winters in Central and South America.
The Little Brown Bat is slightly smaller than the average size bat and exists on a diet of gnats, flies, and aquatic insects. These little bats obtained a reputation for having voracious appetites and can consume half their body weight in a single night. Little Brown Bats are currently listed as endangered due to the fungal infection known as White Nose Syndrome. This fungus can quickly spread from bat to bat, and it is most often fatal.
Disease, habitat loss, and wind turbines are some of the most common ways of bat control in our modern environment. These creatures serve a significant role in our environment. Every night bats consume an enormous amount of mosquitoes, flies, and other flying insects; this makes our world a much more pleasant place to be. Along with this, bats are responsible for a sizable amount of biodiversity in the plant kingdom as they transfer pollen from one plant to another.
Bats Carry Many Diseases
While humans do greatly benefit from bats, there is certainly reason to be cautious and avoid direct contact if you happen to run across one. Bats are not usually aggressive, but they are wild animals and can respond unexpectedly to exposure to humans. If they are found roosting inside the home, Bat removal is essential.
While rabies is the most well-known disease to be spread by bats and is always fatal to humans once symptoms begin, the story doesn’t end there. A surprising number of human viruses can be traced, either directly or indirectly, back to bats. Due to the relatively close biological relationship between humans and bats, viral mutations between the two occur with regular frequency. This fact can be particularly problematic when dealing with respiratory viruses such as SARS and other retroviruses.
Bat guano, or feces, is also host to several ailments that infect humans. Caution should be taken whenever one is around large amounts of bird or bat guano, and a professional skilled in Bat infestation should be consulted.
Despite the scary reputation, a world entirely without bats is far more frightening.
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