Halloween is fast approaching and I’ve been thinking about bats. I would love to have a bat house (no, not for me to live in—I’m not quite that batty) in the backyard to take care of the raging mosquito population, but I’ve never gotten Dad past agreeing conceptually to the idea. Sometimes moving things from the to-do list to the to-done list is more difficult than I’d like.
Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about bats. They’re not just for Halloween anymore.
If you were to count up all the classes of mammals in the world (fortunately someone has already done this for you), you would discover that bats represent about 20% of all classified mammal species. About 70% of whom prefer the Insectus Diet — and given how I feel about controlling the insect population near our house, this a very good thing. Most of the rest of bats are frugivores (new Word of the Day!!!) — fruit eaters.
What???? In some instances the word “most” is a dandy modifier. But maybe not when it comes to bat cuisine. Panic not. Turns out only three bat species chow down on things like fish and meat, and none of them are in our backyard (I checked).
The old saying, “blind as a bat,” refers to baseball bats which in fact have no eyes. The mammal-type bats are not at all blind and most have excellent vision as well as great hearing. Large bats with large eyes hunt by sight and smell rather than echolocation.
In order to photograph a bat catching its insect-y dinner, Frederick A. Webster created a camera capable of taking 1,000 pictures per second. Yup, 1,000 per second. Before that, it was all vampire tales and guesswork. Bats are not creatures to laugh at dinner delivered air express, so if a mosquito flies into its mouth, the bat will gulp and burp. Generally, however, the bat uses its tail or wings to scoop up its prey and take it back to its roost, using its tail membrane as a kind of napkin in its lapkin. (I did not make that up.)
The average lifespan of a bat varies, but some species of brown bat can live to be 30 years old. Batman is older, depending on how you count these things.
In a model of inefficiency, most bats drink by skimming the surface of water, opening their jaws, and slurping one drop of water at a time. Some bats skim the surface of the water and then lick the water off their fur. Reminds me of some frat boys I once knew.
During the Civil War, bat guano was used to make gunpowder.
There are all sorts of stories, myths, and amusing fiction about bats flying into womens hair. Utter nonsense. Seriously: if you had to fuel your body one gnat at a time would you bother to get caught in an elaborate updo? No, you would not. You’d head to the buffet and get busy.
A single brown bat can catch around 1,200 mosquito-size insects in one hour.
Speaking of stories, according to Oaxacan mythology, the bat’s nocturnal nature can be explained by its ancient jealousy of birds’ feathers. One day, the bat felt isolated and undesirable, and told God that he was cold. God turned to birds in the animal kingdom and asked if they would show compassion and donate a feather to the bat to help him keep warm. The birds all agreed and all plucked one feather from their bodies to give to the bat. With all of these feathers, the bat became even more magnificent-looking than all birds, and was able to spread color to the night sky. During daylight the bat created rainbows that reflected vibrant colors from the sun.
With his new beauty and abilities, the bat soon became arrogant and conceited (remind you of a coat of many colors?). The birds grew annoyed with the bat and told God of the bat’s behavior. God was displeased and called the bat to show him what he was doing. The bat began to fly across the light blue sky and one by one the feathers began to fall out, uncovering the bat’s natural, ugly body. When all his feathers were gone, the bat became ashamed of his appearance. He decided to hide in caves during the day and only come out during the night to search for his long-lost feathers.
Bats spend more time grooming themselves than even the most image-obsessed teenager.
Bats do not make good pets, but be kind to any you encounter. An indoor bat is a confused bat that just wants to get back to insect eating. Scare it and you will have a scared and confused bat. Better to open windows and encourage it to return to its natural habitat. (Also reminds me of those frat boys.)
More than 50 percent of bat species in the United States are either in severe decline or are listed as endangered.
It was wonderful having you home this weekend. Have a good trip back to school and a good luck with exams this week.