Bats, just like Goths, have long been a misunderstood species. Thanks to popular culture and horror movies, many see these creatures as harbingers of death, disease and discord, with a thirst for the blood of animals and humans. Nothing could be further than the truth.
Personally, I find myself fascinated by these nocturnal, leathery-winged little beasts. So it is with great sadness that I read about other parts of the world where they are viewed as ‘pests’ and are often culled in large numbers, contrary to scientific evidence that these creatures are a threat.
The latest country to cull bats is Mauritius, which, until now, has had a good name for conservation. The government, it seems, has bowed to pressure from commercial farmers who claim bats are hugely instrumental in destroying their crops, and have set out to cull 18,000 bats. This cull is not backed up by scientific evidence which suggests, to the contrary, that bats only cause a small percentage of fruit damage and that damage by weather, birds, monkeys, insects and late harvesting are not being taken into account. Bats, it seems, are getting the blame again. For more on this story, check out this excellent article from the Guardian which explains the situation in detail.
- Bats play an important part in nature pollinating plants and spread seeds from the fruit they feed on. In Mexico, the bat helps to pollinate the agave plant used to make tequila? That’s right, no bats, no tequila. Next time you’re downing a shot of Jose Cuervo, raise a toast to our batty friends.
- Bats consume huge quantities of insects, acting as a natural form of pest control. Many breeds of bats eat their own body weight in bugs in a single night. That’s a lot of insects and is a more environmentally-friendly way of controlling pests than using chemical pesticides.
- While vampire bats do exist, they are only one of a great many breeds of bats. These bats are mostly resident in South America and feed on animals, taking only a teaspoon of blood at any one sitting.
- There are nine different species of bat in Ireland. Most of them being small pipistrelle types. While the bat population in Ireland is increasing, this is only on foot of several declines that have happened over the last three decades. For more information, see the Bat Conservation Ireland website.
- Bats are surprisingly long-lived. The average Irish bat can live for up to 8 years while more exotic varieties can live to be 30!
- Bat populations are in decline in many parts of the world due to loss of habitat (urbanization), culling, pesticides, illegal killing for ‘bush meat’ and diseases such as white-nose syndrome. This last has decimated bat colonies across the US and Canada, with many varieties now on the endangered list.
- If you ever find an injured bat, don’t handle it. If you must move it, wear gloves and call your local bat conservation organisation for advice.
The good news is that many conservation groups are fighting on behalf of the bats. Recently, in Texas, the largest colony of Mexican free-tailed bats was saved from a proposed housing development. Follow this link for more on that story.
Bats may not win any beauty contests, but they are needed and deserve protection as much as the most beautiful exotic animal. If you are interested in helping protect Irish bats or just want to learn more about them, check out the Bat Conservation Ireland website. If you are resident in the UK, there’s the Bat Conservation Trust website or search online for your local wildlife conservation organisation.