Amazing Bats By: Guy Belleranti
Stories and movies often make bats into scary creatures that attack in the dark of night. In real life, however, most bats are harmless. Many are even helpful to humans.
Over 800 species or types of bats feast on pesky insects that damage crops or spread disease. Another 400 or so bat species eat ripe fruit and plant nectar. These bats are very useful because they pollinate flowers and disperse seeds. There are also a few species of larger bats that hunt small animals like mice, fish, lizards, and frogs. A very few even drink blood.
The blood drinkers are the three species of vampire bats. However, the vampire bat doesn’t suck blood. Instead, it makes a puncture wound with its sharp incisors and then laps the blood up like a kitten. The animal victim usually sleeps through the entire process. While attacks on humans have occurred, the bats common targets are livestock and other animals.
Interestingly, the vampire bat may become useful to humans. You see, a chemical in the bat’s saliva thins blood and dissolves blood clots. Studies indicate this could be a great aid in treating people with strokes. In the future, medicine may be made from vampire bats' saliva.
Some people think bats are birds, but they're not. They have fur, not feathers. And their babies do not hatch from eggs; they're born alive. Also, bats have mouths and noses; birds have beaks. Scientists put them in a special mammal group called Chiroptera (Ki-ROP-ter-a).
Bats are the only mammals that truly fly. Flying uses lots of energy, so bats must sleep when they aren’t flying. Many bats hibernate in winter, when their food supply is limited. Some also migrate to warmer climates in winter.
Bats are nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day and come out at night. But why? There are several reasons. First of all, night is when most insects are out. There’s also less competition for food at night. Also, nighttime is safe for bats because there are fewer predators hunting for food. The temperature is another reason bats are active at night. Since they're covered in fur, bats mostly fly after dark when the temperatures are cooler.
Have you ever heard the expression, blind as a bat? You might be surprised to learn that bat's aren't really blind at all. All bats have eyes and can see, but not very well. Those that hunt live prey have an even better sense: echolocation. The bat sends out a high-pitched sound. While people can’t hear the sound, the bat, with its specially adapted ears, hears the sound fine. When the sound hits an object it echoes back. From the sound of the echo the bat knows the object’s size, shape and location and also if it’s something yummy to eat.