With an astonishing 1,421 different species (and counting), bats make up 20% of all known mammals. They live on nearly every corner of the globe and occupy several food niches. The diversity of bat species is amazing. Check out this collage of images by Bryan Bongey using photos by Merlin Tuttle's Bat Conservation.
What Are Bats?
Bats are in the mammal order Chiroptera which is Latin for 'hand wing'. Just like all mammals, bats are warm-blooded, have fur, give birth to live young and nurse their babies (also known as pups). Although they are in their own order it is fascinating to see which animals bats are more closely related to. Often labeled as flying mice or rats, bats are actually closer to carnivores, antelopes, rhinos, and pangolins. Check out this great, easy to read list from the University of TX El Paso and this evolutionary tree of mammals (look for Chiroptera on the right). Very interesting to see where humans and primates are on the list.
Bats are one of the world's most important mammals. They are essential to ecosystem health, rainforests, and global economies. Humans need bats for insect control, pollination, and seed dispersal.
Without bats the world would be a lot less interesting. Aside from losing an abundance of amazing biodiversity, our crops would suffer and insects would be overwhelming. Did you know that bats are the primary predator of night flying insects? That’s right, bats love insects, many that humans despise such as mosquitoes, stink bugs, and devastating agricultural pests such as the Corn earworm moth that causes billions of dollars in damage to cotton, soybeans and tomatoes. A single bat can eat hundreds of insects each night. Factor in a colony of thousands, or even millions, and that’s a lot of insects. A USGS study conducted in 2011 found that ‘Insect-eating bats provide pest-control services that save the U.S. agricultural industry over $3 billion per year.’ Read more about this study here.
Fruit and nectar bats spread seeds, pollinate flowers, and help regenerate forests. These bats swallow large amounts of small seeds while consuming fruits which are passed out over clear-cut areas resulting in reforestation. In some tropical areas of the world over 90% of the regrowth of the rainforest is due to bat dispersed seeds. Numerous agricultural products depend on bats for seed dispersal or pollination such as banana, mango, avocado, cloves, coconut, figs, cashews, and agave (tequila). Fruit bats are capable of flying long distances which help maintain forest diversity and regeneration. Flying foxes are particularly important in oceanic islands where they are often the only animals big enough to transport larger seeds. Think of a mango pit, bats are the only animals capable of dispersing something of that size. An estimated 186 plant products used by humans rely upon fruit bats for pollination and seed dispersal. As fruit bat populations continue to decline, agriculture and the economies of tropical countries suffers.
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