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The Truth About Bats

They’re often misunderstood to be blind, squeaky creatures who suck blood and get tangled in your hair, but bats are an important species. They impact our lives in ways we often don’t appreciate, like eating mosquitoes, pollinating our favorite fruits, and more!

Bats have been on Earth for more than 50 million years. With over 1,400 species, they are the second largest order of mammals, and are widely dispersed across six continents.

Next time you see a bat in your yard, consider these ways in which they enrich our lives!

The Grey-headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) is a large bat native to Australia which helps pollinate fruit.

Without bats, we could say goodbye to avocados, mangoes, bananas and more! Most flowering plants cannot produce seeds and fruit without pollination. This process also improves the genetic diversity of plants. From deserts to rainforests, bats that drink the sweet nectar inside flowers pick up a dusting of pollen and move it along to other flowers as they feed. Over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination. Bats spread seeds, including those of the cacao plant. So, without bats, our chocolate supply would be greatly reduced!

Florida’s Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) feeds on beetles, flies, mosquitoes, flying ants, flying termites, many other insects.

Bats can eat their body weight in insects EACH NIGHT. Farmers have bats to thank for helping to protect their crops from insects. By eating insects, bats save U.S. agriculture billions of dollars each year in pest control. Some studies have estimated that service to be worth as much as 53 billion dollars annually.* That doesn’t even take into account the volume of insects eaten in forests and how that impacts the lumber industry, nor the importance of bats as crop pollinators.

An extract from the saliva of the Common Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus) is used for medicine.

Bats inspire medical innovations. About 80 medicines come from plants that rely on bats for pollination. Doctors have studied bat echolocation and used it to develop navigational aids for the blind. Bat research has also led to advances in vaccines for humans. Scientists have extracted a compound from vampire bat saliva and turned it into medicine (aptly named Draculin). Studies have found this anticoagulant drug to be very useful for stroke patients. Scientists are also studying bats’ resistance to DNA damage and malaria parasites in hopes of learning more about human DNA damage and how to better deal with malaria.

Bat guano (excrement) is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and is used to fertilize lawns and gardens. Nitrogen promotes rapid, green growth, and phosphorus promotes root growth and supports flowering, while potassium helps plants grow strong stems.

Interested in learning more about bats? Check out the traveling exhibit “Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats” in the Gallery now through January 28th. Learn about how gentle bats really are, and their many benefits to the environment through lifelike models, multisensory interactive displays, and environmentally realistic settings.

(Information courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior, and the National Wildlife Federation)


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