B_ ts! What are they? B_ts in the belfry? Are you B_t_y? What can you make out of an ash tree that makes a baseball player a real swinger? What does a pinch hitter in baseball do? Why he B_ts for someone, of course! Can you fill in all the blanks? Only birds can fly, right?? What about flying squirrels or flying fish? You know better than that, they don’t fly, they sail or glide, which is an adaptation all its own. The guys we’re talking about are incredibly special and fill a niche so important that without them we would have a difficult time living the way we do. And all we seem to do for these tiny flying mammals is run around at night, waving our arms in the sky warning everyone about their propensity to fly into your hair! How in the grand scheme of things did that come about? That’s right, all those blanks spell BATS!!! Those ugly, hairy, toothy, winged, nocturnal, insect eating, vilified, life threatening creatures that do more for humans than many of us will ever dare to appreciate. Do you love bats? If your answer is no, you’ve got to change your evil ways. There should be bumper stickers that say, “Have you hugged your bat today”. Let’s take a deep breath and talk about this.

Bats are incredible communal nesters. They are nocturnal and live in very dark, secret places. At the same time, you can coax them into living around your home, with you. That’s right, with you. I have a client that has bats living with them in their dining room. The bats have found a place to roost behind the china cabinet and have found a way to get in and out of the house, without bothering anyone or even being noticed. These people have their own insect extermination service, Free of Charge!! So few people ever see bats, owls or other night dwelling creatures, but all of them play a role that is important beyond belief, here’s why…

These flying, hairy mammals made their terrestrial debut 50 million years ago. Fossil records show that bats have changes little during that time, which alone shows success through adaptation. How many bats are there? Well, I don’t think anyone knows that, but there are 800 species that traverse our planet, some that are 5 feet wide, wing tip to wing tip and others as small as 2 inches that live in the hollow stems of bamboo in the Philippines. What do bats eat, well, you name it. Shrimp, frogs, fish (now that’s cool), birds, rodents, fruit, some actually take blood from other animals and, of course, INSECTS, INSECTS AND INSECTS!!!!!!!!!! Bats are the greatest consumer of insects on the earth. Between their appetite and their shear numbers, their value to us as positive consumers in incalculable. Throw away that nighttime bug zapper and hire a bat. Kevin Costner proved it, just build a bat house and they will come. Think about it, if there are billions of bats and each insect eater eats hundreds of insects per night, oh well, that’s a ton of dead bugs. And…one thing I can promise you; they do not eat or want your HAIR!!! Being hairy mammals, they have enough of their own! This nasty little misunderstanding between man and bat got started in the urban setting with the onset of street lights. Where will insects be found? Near streetlights, right? Where will the bats hangout? Near the insects, right? When bats hunt insects they fly quickly, changing directions on a dime, up, down and around. People would see these bats close to them and think they were after them. Oh well, we seem to always fear what we don’t understand. Next time you see a bat near a streetlight, get close and watch one of the most incredible flying exhibitions ever.

Just as you can build a bluebird house for your fence or yard you can do the same for bats with a bat house. Bats roost, (spend the night together), communally, in great numbers. Some caves in the southern U.S. contain literally millions of bats which look like great black clouds as they enter or leave. The little brown bat is our most common species in the Mid-Atlantic and will come to a bat house in your yard. You can mount the house on your house or a tree and watch them during the warm season, and watching them fly and hunt is the fun part. Some bats fly and hunt with their eyes but most fly by a technique called echo location. These bats have hearing parts that take up the majority of space in their brain, and use actual sonar to detect and locate things. As the bat flies through the dark it emits little buzzing noises, sometimes up to 200 times per second. These buzzes bounce off objects and prey allowing the bat to avoid an obstacle or capture dinner. Other bats that eat fruit or flowers have adapted better sight than hearing out of necessity. Bats that lick nectar from flowers have tongues that are longer than their bodies, and those that eat fruit are generally larger due to the size and weight of that particular fruit.

What’s the final verdict on these maligned little creatures? I guess it may be hard to live with them but the reality is, it would be impossible to live without them. They are an important part of our world. The bone-chilling truth of the matter is that without natural controls insects could easily take over the world. That’s an ugly, sobering thought. Thanks to creatures like our not so beautiful bats, we will more than likely be saved from being “bugged” to death! Personally, I’d like to give the hairy little fellows a pat on their cute little head for a job well done. They can stay at my place anytime!

Copyright 2005 by Peter Deahl. All rights reserved.
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