Celebrate Bat Week with Natural Habitat Adventures

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Bats are mammals that belong to the order chiroptera (from the greek cheir—“hand” and pteron—“wing”), an adaptation that distinguishes them as the one mammal able to true flight. Bats share some options with birds and even pterosaurs (the extinct flying reptile), comparable to fused cranial bones for extra lightness and a raised bone on the sternum, referred to as a keel, to which the massive flight muscular tissues connect. However, options just like the wing membrane, or patagium, which is supported by the arm and by 4 extremely elongated fingers, and the power to echolocate, like toothed whales, make bats an evolutionary enigma.

Tracing bat lineage is especially difficult as a result of their slender skeletons don’t protect properly. Sparse fossil information point out that bats first appeared within the Eocene, some 55 million years in the past; nonetheless, a current paper means that bats arose an epoch sooner, through the Paleocene. A group primarily based on the University of Kansas and China found two fossil tooth belonging to 2 separate specimens of the bat, dubbed Altaynycteris aurora, within the Junggar Basin of northwest China. The historic stays bolster a concept that bats might have emerged from Asia, then distributed themselves throughout the globe after they later developed the mechanism for flight.

Today, there are greater than 1,400 species of bats worldwide—that’s nearly 20 % of all mammal species! According to the IUCN Red List, 29 bat species are critically endangered, 89 are endangered and 121 species are thought of susceptible. Scientists have acknowledged almost 250 extra bat species which can be “Data Deficient,” which means that each the variety of mature people, and the inhabitants pattern, is unknown. Much of their conduct stays a thriller, feeding the black gap that’s bat historical past. The cryptic nature of those creatures has led a variety of cultures to stipulate the origins of bats by means of a slew of tales, many mythic in proportion.

Sinister Superstitions

Illustration zoologique / Desmodus rotundus / Chauve-souris Vampire

Zoological illustration of a vampire bat

Sociocultural representations of animals as “good” or “evil” have endured for a number of millennia and affect attitudes that decide the success of conservation efforts. This is especially evident when an animal is labeled “evil,” deeming them much less worthy of safety. Similarly, species which can be deemed “good” might turn into susceptible to over-harvesting, comparable to within the case of pangolins, that are poached and consumed within the identify of conventional medication and social standing.

The phenomenon of chiroptophobia—an irrational concern of bats, which encompasses damaging perceptions of bats as illness vectors, pests, or evil spirits—represents a big barrier to bat conservation globally. Centuries of predominantly Western demonization—coupled with sensationalized media protection of bats as reservoirs of viruses, notably in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic—have made bats a controversial, misunderstood and undervalued species.

Western cultural associations of bats with devils and witchcraft have been recorded in Christian custom as early because the fourteenth century. Tertullian, an early Christian writer from Carthage, claimed that the Devil and his angels had wings, and round 1314, Dante wrote that the Devil’s wings had no feathers, “but was in form and texture like a bat’s.” In 1332, a French noblewoman, Lady Jacaume of Bayonne, “was publicly burned to death as a witch because ‘crowds of bats’ were seen about her house and garden.” In the 1600s, William Shakespeare equated bats with witches, spells and curses. In Macbeth, there’s the incantation of the three witches: “Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog,” and in The Tempest, there’s Caliban’s curse on Prospero: “All the charms of Sycorax, toads, beetles and bats, light on you.”

The big-eared woolly bat or (Peter's) woolly false vampire bat (

The big-eared woolly bat or woolly false vampire bat

One of probably the most enduring previous wives’ tales from Europe is that bats will get tangled in girls’s hair and need to be lower out with a pair of scissors. In 1958, a zoologist and former President of the Mammal Society by the identify of Gathorne-Hardy, Fifth Earl of Cranbrook, determined to problem this superstition. Using two volunteers—a lady with brief curly hair and a lady with lengthy wavy hair in a bun—Cranbrook positioned 4 completely different species of bats on their heads: a noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula)—the biggest bat within the UK; a long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus); a Natters bat (Myotis nattereriand); and a Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii). In all 4 circumstances, the bats crawled across the volunteers’ hair with out turning into entangled after which ultimately flew away with none points.

In different elements of the world, communities concocted their very own scary tales. In north and northeastern Thailand, a bat lively within the daytime or the sight of bats flying round a temple, foretells an individual’s loss of life. The Huaulu peoples of Maluku Indonesia affiliate bats with individuals who have died a violent loss of life and the Batak of Sumatra regard flying foxes because the embodiment of malevolent spirits. In Pakistan, folks consider that bats roosting close to one’s residence carry misfortune. In Sri Lanka, it was believed that if somebody denies one other particular person from consuming water, they’d be reincarnated as a bat as punishment.

Two black flying-foxes Pteropus alecto hanging in a tree, Kakadu National Park, Northern territory, Australia

A pair of black flying foxes (Pteropus alecto) sleeping in Kakadu National Park, Northern Australia

In New Zealand, Māori affiliate bats—pekapeka—with the legendary nocturnal hen hokioi that heralds loss of life and catastrophe. Bats are New Zealand’s solely fatherland mammals, making them an particularly necessary focus for conservation efforts. There are two species of bats in New Zealand; the criticality-threatened long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus) and the endangered lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata).

Debunking Vampire Bat Myths

In Japanese mythology, very previous bats can rework into nobusuma, spirit animals resembling flying squirrels that land on their victims’ faces at evening to feed off blood. The Ilocano peoples dwelling close to caves all through the Philippines, affiliate bats with the fearsome aswang and manananggal demon spirits, which prey on human livers and pregnant girls. The former is a feminine human with bat-like wings, capable of detach its higher torso and fly; the latter can assume bat kind when searching.

Decapitating bat demons seem in numerous myths all through the Amazon, the place ritual human and animal sacrifice, usually by decapitation, was frequent in lots of cultures of the traditional New World. Also in style, are tales of supernatural bats that burn their victims or are themselves destroyed by fireplace. These might have been born out of observations of pure fires in caves, which generally happen from the spontaneous combustion of bat guano. In northern Guyana, Tamaruo Dukuo, or “Bat Mountain,” looms within the distance as a stark reminder of villagers who had been whisked away within the evening by large bats and eaten alive. One bat, who might have been the inspiration for these tales, is—Vampyrum spectrum, extra generally generally known as the spectral bat—the biggest bat within the Western Hemisphere, with wings that may stretch greater than three toes. Vampyrum spectrum is often known as the nice false vampire bat as a result of it doesn’t slurp blood like its vampire cousin, Desmodus rotundus; it eats flesh. Another frequent title is Latin America’s “jaguar on the wing.” Their conduct has been likened to that of a jaguar as a result of each mammals are apex predators that administer the killing chunk on the high of the pinnacle or the again of the neck. According to a current research, Vampyrum is only one of 9 bat species that qualify as carnivores. These species—which embody the woolly false vampire bat (Chrotopterus auritus) and the frog-eating bat (Trachops cirrhosus), play a significant function of their ecosystems serving to to regulate prey populations.

Spectral Bat (Vampyrum spectrum) Caught Mist Netting in Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico.

Spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum) caught mist netting in Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

In Malawi in 2017, bat superstitions prompted a violent uproar when a mob hunted people suspected of vampirism. The United Nations withdrew its personnel from the riot-affected areas consequently. From Sierra Leone, comes an account of “Boman,” a shape-shifting creature believed to suck the blood of sleeping kids. The hammer-headed fruit bat (Hypsignathus monstrosus) was branded the villain. As the biggest bat in Africa, with wingspans as much as 38 inches, this bat undoubtedly struck concern into the moms of infants. Fortunately, because the frequent identify applies, hammer-headed bats are frugivorous, with a particular affinity for figs.

Among the Ibibio peoples of southern Nigeria and the Nilotic peoples of Sudan, bats are related to witchcraft, because the follow is often carried out at evening. If a bat flies into the house and touches an individual, they’re doomed to have their coronary heart eaten when the bat returns whereas they sleep. The yellow-winged bat Lavia frons—certainly one of 5 species of false vampire bat (household Megadermatidae) from Africa—was particularly ominous as a result of it was usually noticed roosting in daylight. However, in contrast to different false vampire bats, which can feed on small vertebrates, the yellow-winged bat feeds completely on bugs.

The colony of Common vampire bats, Desmodus rotundus in the cav

Colony of frequent vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus)

Blood-drinking bats had been an obscurity in Europe previous to the Sixteenth-century exploits of Spanish conquistadors within the New World. Explorers who voyaged with Columbus returned from Trinidad with the primary written accounts of bats that ate up blood. In 1565, Hernán Cortés’ firm returned from Mexico with stories of individuals being bitten within the evening. In 1796, Dutch-born John Gabriel Stedman wrote of being bitten by a vampire in Guyana, describing it as “a bat of monstrous size, that sucks the blood from men and cattle when they are fast asleep, even sometimes till they die.” Charles Darwin grew to become the primary scientist to see a vampire bat, however it could not be for one more 70 years that taxonomic descriptions of all three vampire species can be accomplished. On day 7 of 164 aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin journaled in regards to the unusual encounter:

“The Vampire bat is often the cause of much trouble, by biting the horses on their withers. The injury is generally not so much owing to the loss of blood, as to the inflammation which the pressure of the saddle afterwards produces. The whole circumstance has lately been doubted in England; I was therefore fortunate in being present when one (Desmodus d’orbignyi, Wat.) was actually caught on a horse’s back. We were bivouacking late one evening near Coquimbo, in Chile, when my servant, noticing that one of the horses was very restive, went to see what was the matter, and fancying he could distinguish something, suddenly put his hand on the beast’s withers, and secured the vampire. In the morning the spot where the bite had been inflicted was easily distinguished from being slightly swollen and bloody. The third day afterwards we rode the horse, without any ill effects.”

The observations of early naturalists encountering tropical bat species very properly might have sparked vampire hysteria throughout Europe. In 1847, Varney the Vampire was printed as a penny dreadful novel by British authors James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest. The story launched a few of the most recognizable tropes of vampire fiction nonetheless used at this time, together with the depiction of fangs and using a Gothic setting. “Le Manoir du Diable” or “The House of the Devil,” is an 1896 French silent movie directed by Georges Méliès. The movie depicts a human remodeling right into a bat, a plot ingredient that has led some observers to label the work the primary vampire movie. Méliès’ movie predates Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, which was printed the next 12 months.

The exaggerated stories from conquistadors emboldened the general public to think about colonies of bloodsucking leviathans. In actuality, of the 1,400+ species of bats on this planet, solely three are vampire bats, and all are thought of microbats, measuring only a few centimeters in size. Native to Central and South America, the true vampires are the frequent vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus), the hairy-legged (Diphylla ecaudata) and the white-winged (Diaemus youngi) vampire bat.

he Brazilian bat, hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata) is one of three species of vampire bats. It mainly feeds on the blood of wild birds, but can also feed both on domestic bird

Hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata), Brazil

There are quite a few extra fossil vampires, which embody Desmodus archaeodaptes from the Upper Pliocene of Florida (generally known as the oldest reported vampire species) and De. draculae from Venezuela, Belize and Brazil. De. Draculae—generally known as a ‘giant vampire’—was roughly 25 % bigger than the trendy frequent vampire and certain ate up large floor sloths.

Prior to the unfold of European colonists and the introduction of home livestock, vampire bats ate up capybaras, tapirs, peccaries, deer and birds. Though their weight loss program generally includes sea lions, seabirds, fruit bats and reptiles, vampires now largely prey on cattle, horses, donkeys, chickens and pigs; and as such, are thought of to be nuisance species in lots of areas. Vampire bats don’t really suck the blood from their prey; they make a small incision with their entrance tooth (incisors) and lap the blood from the wound whereas particular proteins of their saliva forestall the wound from clotting. Incredibly, this potent anticoagulant has been used within the improvement of medicine to assist forestall strokes in people.

Bat Lore and Love

In distinction to the damaging narratives surrounding bats, there are a variety of cultures that share an emotional affinity with these distinctive mammals. For instance, bats are revered all through India. In Madurai, Tamil Nadu, worshippers of the god Muni regard Pteropus giganteus as sacred and defend colonies for concern of divine punishment. Additionally, a bat temple in Assam, on the entrance of a mixed-species bat cave, has hosted festivals since 2001. In Malaysia, ethnic Han Chinese consider {that a} bat getting into one’s home is an efficient omen. Similarly, the Sarawakian Ibans peoples of Malaysian Borneo consider {that a} bat flying into the home signifies a shaman (manang) bringing good vibes (chelap) and safety. Samoan legend tells of how the Tongan king’s Samoan spouse, Leutogi, was rescued by flying foxes and he or she later honored her rescuers by naming her son Tonumaipe’a, which means “rescued by flying foxes.” Some communities in Vanuatu even think about Pteropus tonganus to be their ancestor and are stated to have the ability to talk with them.

Flying fox borneo rain forest tree

Flying Fox in Borneo © Harsha Jayaramaiah

A group of ethnobiologists carried out a evaluation of publications within the English-language literature documenting the cultural worth of bats in East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania traditions. Of the 60 completely different cultures in 24 international locations assessed, 62 % had solely optimistic values, 8 % had impartial values and 10 % had damaging values. The outcomes counsel that Asia-Pacific cultures include extra optimistic associations with bats than most Western societies and, as such, supply promising alternatives to advertise human-bat coexistence. For conservation to achieve success, we should uplift and revitalize optimistic sociocultural representations of bats.

After all, bats present a myriad of ecosystem providers as indicator species, pollinators, seed dispersers and pest controllers (insectivorous bats save the agricultural trade between $3.7-53 billion every year within the US alone). There are greater than 530 species of flowering crops that depend on bats as both their main or unique pollinators. Some of those crops embody the culturally vital durian fruit (Durio zibethinus); avocado; agave, that are harvested to produce the multimillion-dollar tequila trade; bananas; and balsa timber, which produce the world’s lightest timber. Mexican long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris nivalis)—which vary from the southern elements of Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona—are important in pollinating worthwhile business crops like figs, dates, mangoes and peaches, which have flowers that solely open at evening.

Orange nectar bat, Lonchophylla robusta, flying bat in dark night. Nocturnal animal in flight with white orchid flower. Wildlife action scene from tropic nature, Costa Rica

Orange nectar bat (Lonchophylla robusta) in Costa Rica

Some states the place giant populations of bats reside are working to make sure bats all the time have a spot to name residence after a nighttime feeding. To educate native communities, organizations comparable to Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation and Bat Conservation International, created guides to help within the development of bat homes and bat-friendly gardens.

Join Nat Hab & WWF for Bat Week!

In celebration of International Bat Week (October 24-31), Natural Habitat Adventures and our journey associate, World Wildlife Fund, hosted a collection of myth-busting Webinars. Check out Part 1: Fascinating Bat Biology with wildlife biologist Scott Gibson as he spreads consciousness in regards to the threats dealing with bats, like rain forest destruction and the deadly fungal illness, white-nose syndrome.

Then, pour your self a drink for Part 2: Salud to the Bats! Raise a glass with Expedition Leader Melissa Silva as she delves into the lifecycle of agave and the way bats are important to Mexico’s setting and economic system.

You might even be taught in regards to the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis); the world’s quickest bat and the quickest mammal! While the cheetah sprints at speeds as much as 75 mph, the free-tailed bat has been recorded flying briefly bursts at speeds as much as 100 mph. Bracken Cave, positioned close to San Antonio, Texas, is a summer time maternity colony for as much as 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats—making it the world’s largest bat colony. In 1992, Bat Conservation International bought the land the place Bracken Cave is positioned to guard it from the growing risk of urbanization.

Lesser Long-nosed Bat, Leptonycteris curasoae, adult in flight at night feeding on Agave blossom (Agave spp.),Tucson, Arizona, USA, September 2006

Lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae) feeding on Agave blossom

See Bats Soar Aboard the Amazon River Cruise

The tropics have the best variety of bats. In truth, probably the most ample mammals within the rain forest are bats, making up over 50 % of mammal species. The abundance of bats accounts for the colourful tales that originate from the Amazon and strongly affect how Indigenous communities work together with resident wildlife. Bat iconography is especially distinguished on the north coast of Peru, the place the Moche peoples glorify the connection of bats and native plant species. Mochica pottery usually depicts bats with sweetsop (Annona squamosa), a tasty fruit with seeds which can be dispersed by bats. Some of their ceramic vessels additionally illustrate an anthropomorphized supernatural bat, holding a knife in a single hand and a human head within the different.

Nat Hab’s Great Amazon River Expedition connects vacationers with a handful of native bat species within the Peruvian Amazon. Some of the bats chances are you’ll encounter are the fishing bat, the sharp-nosed bat and the tent-making bat. Journey to the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, a 5-million-acre wildlife sanctuary on the jap flank of the Andes, the place tributaries converge to delivery the mighty Amazon River. Hear from WWF researchers about what’s at stake and how one can be a part of a pressure for conservation change.

Amazon river cruise boat travel let’s camera bird watching binoculars

© Megan Koelemay

Happy Halloween!

P.S. If you’re seeking a conservation-themed costume for this 12 months’s festivities, look no additional than these newly found species for inspiration: Myotis nimbaenis possesses placing Halloween colours with black wings and orange fur and fingers. This six-ounce bat lives in deserted mine shafts in Guinea’s Nimba Mountains. A bat with lengthy golden hair was dubbed the Lance Bass Bat for its placing resemblance to the *NSYNC band member’s iconic frosted ideas. This uncommon species was found within the sub-Himalayan habitat of Myanmar’s Hkakabo Razi forest.

Dwarf epauletted fruit bat (Micropteropus pussilus) flying at night

Dwarf epauletted fruit bat (Micropteropus pussilus)

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