Bats get a bad rap. They are often associated with evil, seen as “creatures of the night” that cavort with vampires and other mythical beings that aren’t very pleasant. Many people think they attack humans and purposefully try to get tangled in their hair, though why any animal would want to do such a thing is anyone’s guess. A famous superhero even modeled his costume after a bat, specifically because he was terrified of them and wanted to strike that same fear into the hearts criminals (can you guess who this MAN who dresses like a BAT could be?!).
But for all these negative associations, are these flying mammals really as bad as their reputation suggests? The truth is, bats are no different than most animals people tend to fear (see also: sharks and snakes): They pretty much just want to live their lives and not be bothered. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should go out and make friends with the first bat you see. They can be dangerous, and may carry diseases such as rabies. But if you keep a respectable distance and treat them with caution, there’s nothing to fear from bats. In fact, bats actually provide quite a few benefits to humanity.
For example, bats are wonderful at pest control, as insects are the primary food source of many bat species. Over the course of an hour, a single bat can eat over 1,000 insects! That amounts to a lot of mosquitos that you won’t have to worry about sucking your blood. Speaking of which…while vampires aren’t real, there is a type of bat that feeds on blood. Appropriately called the Vampire Bat, it lives in Central and South America. While its diet may make it seem frightening, even these bats have the potential to help humans – a special compound in the bat’s saliva stops blood from clotting, and this has been shown to have uses in the medical field to help improve blood flow in certain types of patients.
|Brown Bat||Townsend's Big-Eared Bat|
While most bats eat insects and a select few feed on blood, there are also many species that prefer to eat fruit. These bats also provide a benefit to humans by acting as pollinators, like bees and butterflies. Fruit-eating bats are essential for fertilizing many fruits and seeds that people also use as food. In addition, they help to spread seeds so that more fruit-bearing plants can grow. When the bats eat the fruit, the seeds pass through their body and are deposited in their guano (droppings) which helps distribute the seeds to new areas.
On a related note, there’s another slightly gross way that bats help people. There’s no nice way to say this, but…bats poop. A LOT. They just do. At first glance, that might not seem like something that would be very helpful to humans, but the reality is that bat poop makes very good fertilizer for crops. This helps farms grow more food, which can feed more people!
Okay, so maybe even after learning all that, you still don’t want to go rushing out to give a bat a big ol’ hug. And that’s okay! But just because an animal might do some icky stuff, and might not be super cute and cuddly, that’s no reason to ignore all the good things that animal can do for humans and the Earth in general! The important thing is to remember is that, cuddly or not, all wild animals deserve respect and appreciation!
Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: The largest bats are the Flying Foxes, which are also known as “megabats” due to their large size. The biggest has a wingspan of over five and a half feet long!