Forest Feature: Bats
Here in Your Northwest Forests, we’re batty for bats! These creatures of the night may have a spooky reputation – but bats are actually incredibly interesting animals who play an important role in maintaining the health of our forests, farms, and even help save human lives!
Check out these bat facts –
Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight (other airborne mammals, like flying squirrels, can glide but can’t flap their wings to rise higher or increase their speed).
People sometimes use the expression “blind as a bat.” But, bats aren’t blind! However, some can also sense objects using echolocation, using high-frequency sound and then listening to the echos to create a “map” of the area their mind to navigate even when it’s too dark for them to see with their eyes.
Forest Service researchers discovered that bat’s wings can be used to identify individual bats—much like human fingerprints.
Most bats eat fruit or insects – but there are three species of vampire bat that bite and then drink the blood from larger animals, like cows and horses. That might sound creepy, but scientists have found powerful anticoagulant in their saliva that is now used to save human lives! The drug Draculin, named after Count Dracula (a fictional vampire often depicted as able to transform into a bat), is used to break up blood clots in people that have suffered strokes or heart attacks.
Bats also help humans in other ways:
They eat insect pests that cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars annually. In the U.S., researchers estimate bats save farmers $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.
They’re also important pollinators for many fresh fruits and vegetables. Avocados, coconut palm trees, vanilla beans, papaya and agave are just some of the crops that rely on bats to help them produce things humans like to eat!
In the tropics, bats help spread seeds for many fruit trees, including figs, mangos, and bananas.
And bat droppings, or guano, are a powerful fertilizer used to grow crops around the world.
Bats need our help, too!
There are 47 species of bat in the United States, and more than half are either rapidly declining in number, or are listed as threatened or endangered species.
In the Pacific Northwest, a species called the Little Brown Bat is under threat from a disease called “white nose syndrome.”
This fungal infection, caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans, interrupts their winter hibernation, leaving them weak and sick by spring – if they survive, at all.
If you visit caves or other places that bats like to roost, you can help by cleaning your clothing (including your shoes) before you enter, and after you leave, to prevent spreading the fungus that causes the disease to another location.
During the week leading up to Halloween, the USDA Forest Service joins conservationists, biologists, and educators around the world in celebrating “Bat Week.”
This year, Bat Week is Oct. 24-31, 2018.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, USDA Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees will be at the Oregon Zoo Oct. 27 & 28 to educate visitors and provide bat-week activities for guests of all ages. Find more info on the Your Northwest Forests event calendar.
Here are more ways you can celebrate Bat Week!
- Turn out the lights! Light pollution affects insect populations, which disrupts the bats who feed on them at night.
- Get familiar with all the different foods made possible by bats! Use the Bat Week Cookbook to make a delicious meal to share with your friends and family.
- Check out this TedEd presentation by bat researcher Amy Wray: “I’m Batman” – https://ed.ted.com/lessons/i-m-batman-amy-wray
- Build a bat house! Buy kits online from hardware and building supply stores (pro tip: look for designs certified by Bat Conservation International), or use these instructions from the National Wildlife Foundation: https://www.nwf.org/en/Garden-for-Wildlife/Cover/Build-a-Bat-House.
- Plant a bat garden! Flowers can provide nectar or pollen that draws moths or insects North American bats like to eat. Bergamot, Smooth Pentesemon, and Choke Cherry are just some of the plants recommended in this sample plan, created by the Forest Service.
- Host your own Bat Week party or event! You can find instructions for fun activities like making origami bats, bat party favors, bat-themed finger puppets and masks, coloring pages, and more at http://batweek.org/bat-week-tool-kit/.
Find more Bat Week ideas at http://batweek.org/can-make-difference/.
Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month, as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.
If you’d like more information about this topic, or other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate Pacific Northwest environmental education and forest science in your classroom, email us at YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.