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Bat Patrol



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Bats Video

Heads up!
Watch video footage of thousands of bats flying out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas.
RealPlayer WinMedia



Bats Audio

Bat Calls
Echolocation provides the bat with a unique sonar system. As they hear their own chirps bounce off objects, bats are able to measure distances, dodge objects, and locate prey.
RealPlayer WinMedia



Multimedia

Bat Doppler
Doppler radar detects clouds of bats as they feed in the Texas skies.


multimedia
Batman - Merlin Tuttle

“Batman”

Listen to Merlin Tuttle give an account of how as a child he came to study an animal that would become his life’s work.



Special

In the Bat House
Want to attract bats to your yard? Learn how to build a bat house. Go to BCI’s site to find out more about bats and how you can help them





Video and photograph courtesy Merlin Tuttle and BCI

Bat Calls courtesy Gary McCracken and University of Tennessee

Recording courtesy Brian Strauss

Online Extra




Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana
Among the most abundant bats in North America, Mexican free–tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana) play an important role by devouring large numbers of corn earworm moths, plus a similar number of other insect pests that consume corn, cotton, and other crops in Texas and the southwestern U.S.

Experts Debunk Bats’ Bad Rap

by Nida Sophasarun

What animal is blind, gets tangled in your hair, and hangs exclusively in belfries? Whatever it is, it’s not a bat. Despite efforts by conservationists, researchers, and animal lovers to educate the general public about bats, people still cling to the myths and mysteries surrounding this traditionally understudied creature. Over the past couple of decades, however, interest in bats has soared, and some people question why they were ever scared of an animal that in the U.S. weighs less than an ounce.

Knowledge is the key to appreciating these reclusive creatures. And if you want to learn more, to whom do you address all bat queries? How about a real live “Batman.” Merlin Tuttle, founder and president of Bat Conservation International (BCI), helps people understand the beneficial role of bats to ecosystems and humans. Based in Austin, Texas, said to be home to the world’s largest urban bat colony, Tuttle dispels damaging myths that plague the world’s only true flying mammal:

  • Myth 1: Bats are blind.
    “There are no blind bats. They see extremely well.”
  • Myth 2: Bats get tangled in your hair.
    In fact, Tuttle has tried to make this happen, but bats just won’t tangle. He notes that echolocation, their sophisticated sonar system, allows bats to dodge wires as fine as human hairs—in the dark.
  • Myth 3: Bats are rabid attackers of humans.
    Bats are actually clean, meticulous groomers. They can contract rabies like most mammals, but as Tuttle advises, “you rarely have to worry about a sick bat if you just leave them alone and go about your business.” In 40 years of studying bats, he’s never been attacked or harmed by one.
  • Myth 4: Bats are bloodsuckers.
    Most bats are nocturnal and eat insects. Some eat fruit, and a few are predators of small vertebrates. Only three of the one thousand or so bat species ingest blood. They live only in Latin America, and only one feeds on livestock while the others feed on the blood of birds.
  • Myth 5: Bats are rodents.
    Bats are no more related to rodents than humans are. Evolution studies show that bats are more closely related to primates than to rodents.
  • Myth 6: Bats are ugly.
    On this, Tuttle responds: “Realistically, there’s nothing more ugly than an elephant. Its eyes are too small, its nose too long, its ears too big. It’s heavy. But we love them, and that’s because we understand them.” Along those same lines, he mentions that photographing bats as they are most of the time—instead of in defensive, snarling positions—has greatly improved their image. “Many are cute, and all are fascinating,” Tuttle says.
A new image doesn’t come easily, as Barbara French, BCI’s conservation biologist, admits. “I get some very, very strange calls,” she says. She has gently convinced callers that bats can’t turn doorknobs, won’t steal peanuts, don’t sling mud, and don’t scream and swarm around lights at night. In all of these cases, the culprits are not bats but usually the weather, rodents, cliff swallows, or nighthawks.

What do bats do, then, if they’re not being a bunch of mischief–makers? It turns out that they’re “nature’s own bug zappers,” as National Geographic editor Carol Lutyk calls them. Bats eat nearly their weight in mosquitoes and crop pests before flying back to their roosts each night. But more than half the 44 U.S. species are endangered or in serious decline. Having built a cheap and easy bat house in her neighborhood park (see box at left), Lutyk wants to do what she can for bats. That includes building more bat houses and saving bat habitat. Plus, Lutyk says, “Bats are cool.”

University of Tennessee biology professor Gary McCracken agrees that bats are worth saving. He has written about the history of bats in folklore and recognizes that people are drawn to the mysterious quality of bats. “They live in places that people fear traditionally and still fear today,” he says.

“They’re clearly unusual animals. But for as many people who fear bats, there are also people who are attracted to them.” As a testament to the level of interest, it’s not uncommon for McCracken to lead a crowd of 200 people on bat walks in late April at the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The bat exhibit at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is also a popular crowd pleaser. Smithsonian bat expert Don Wilson notes that bats have the same sort of attraction as snakes, spiders, sharks, and other misunderstood creatures. All this interest in their mystique garners much needed attention for bat conservation. Tuttle ranks human ignorance, habitat loss, and the fact that there remains much to learn about bats as major threats to worldwide bat populations. Solutions include education, protection of habitats and resources, and continued research and study of bats.

McCracken currently works on projects that give practical demonstrations and assign a dollar value to the ecosystem services provided by Mexican free–tailed bats.

Their value in the balance of an ecosystem in which humans live is perhaps most evident in Austin, where bats flood the evening skies, above and over the heads of onlookers. “No one gets bitten or infected with rabies,” says Tuttle. “The bats rid the city of pesky bugs, and also bring the city an average of eight million dollars annually from tourists who come to see them. What community wouldn’t want that?”

Photograph courtesy Merlin Tuttle

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