Bats control mosquitoes. What’s not to love about that? Bats are nature’s flying pest control program. I knew very little about bats until a couple of weeks ago. Back when husband Tom and I were just getting acquainted, he told me about a bat colony under the Waugh Street bridge in Houston. We agreed we should go watch them come out some evening. It took over six years to get around to doing that, but it was worth making time to go.
Just as daylight fades to dusk, they start emerging – by the hundreds. And hundreds. And they keep it up for five, ten, fifteen minutes. Maybe more. Once it got too dark to see their dark bodies against the darkening evening sky we headed back to the car.
Bats – Nature’s Flying Pest Control Program
I have a whole new respect for these strange creatures. For starters, they are the penultimate mosquito control system. For example, the 100 million Mexican free-tailed bats claiming the Texas Hill Country as home collectively gobble down 1,000 TONS of insects – every night. The Waugh bridge colony, numbering around 250,000, consumes 5,000 pounds of insects during their nightly foraging around the city. The Mexican free-tailed variety is one of over 1,300 bat species, making bats the second largest group of mammals on Earth. So that you don’t leave to go look which group is number one – I can tell you – though I am reluctant to do so. The number one spot goes to the group containing mice and rats. Don’t bats seem pretty good by comparison?
Some species of bats eat fruit, and then recycle the fruit seeds to help regrow rain forests. Some also feed on nectar, pollinating tropical crops such as bananas, mangoes and avocados. Next time you have a margarita toast the bats that pollinated the agave plant, that made the tequila, that made the margarita, which made . . . OK. Enough of that. But it seems some creative person could compose a ballad to pay tribute to the bats for their part in giving us margaritas. It’s hard to imagine a Friday night Tex-Mex dinner without the margaritas.
Did you know bats are not blind; even though we say a person is a blind as a bat? Apparently, they can see quite well. Who figures out these things? They navigate with a built-in echolocation system. This enables them to detect objects as fine as a strand of human hair, and, more importantly, snatch up insects in the dark.
Their skeletal structure is not all that different from that of a human and they are mammals. Indeed, they are the only mammal that actually can fly. Their “wings” are really just proportionally very long arm, wrist, and finger bones supporting a skin membrane. They have a thumb and foot bones that protrude, so they can hang upside down – or grip their prey.
Being mammals, a bat mom gives birth to one live offspring and nurses it. The variety living under the Waugh bridge typically give birth to one pup in May or June. Here’s an amazing thing – the pup weighs a third of the weight of it’s mother. Ouch! That would be like an average size woman delivering a 40-pound baby. Each mother knows her own pup’s voice, even though they live in colonies with thousands of other mothers and pups.
So Long Childhood
Childhood comes and goes in a flash for bats. A pup reaches adult size and learns to fly in just two weeks. Those that don’t end up as prey for snakes, raccoons, hawks, owls, or herons live an average of 10 to 12 years. Some bat species live over 40 years.
I’m not sure what bats ever did to get a bad reputation or be turned into a super hero icon. I am going on record as saying bats are our friends. They stay hidden by day. They stalk the night skies devouring insects that make outdoor activities less enjoyable. Some of the thousands of mosquitoes they consume carry diseases that can be deadly for humans. As for a bat’s reputation for spreading rabbis? Only one-half to one percent of bats do and it’s highly unlikely we’d ever come in contact with them.
Bats Need A Break
Bats, like all wildlife, struggle to survive due to the loss of habitat and introduction of toxic chemicals into our agricultural practices. According to a NPR report, we’ve diminished the wildlife population by 60% since the 1970’s. We can help this winged pest control critter by putting up bat boxes.
You don’t have to visit the Waugh Street bridge at dusk to learn more about these remarkable mammals. Just head over to http://www.batcon.org to read more about bats and the huge help they give humans by pollinating crops and devouring pesky insects.
April is the annual Earth Day. We need to pay a little more respect for the millions of creatures that share this wonderful world with us. To read other blogs on this topic check out Caring About Creation or Let Nature Take Its Course.