Uncategorized October 27, 2022

Going Batty

Tree Talk – 27 October 2022

Gerri Makay – ND Forest Service

Going Batty


“They’re creepy and they’re kooky – mysterious and spooky – they’re all together ooky…” (1)

Halloween is filled with images of things gloomy and cryptic:  black cats and cauldrons, skeletons and spiders, broomsticks and bats.  Bats?  Of course!  They fly around at night, and like vampires, they will bite and suck your blood!  Actually, bats are very misunderstood.


Bats are the only mammals that can fly, thanks to the leathery wing membrane that extends between the bones of the “fingers” and another wing membrane between the tail and the hind legs.  This membrane can form a basket or pouch to help catch and hold insects captured in flight.  Bats eat many insects, including moths, beetles, gnats and mosquitoes – as many as 1,000 or more small insects in a single hour!  A nursing mother bat eats the most, sometimes catching more than 4,000 insects in a night.  That makes bats a bit more tolerable.  Bats are heroes of the night.


While bats are insectivorous, some species feed on fruit.  More than 300 species of fruit depend upon bats for pollination, including bananas, avocados and mangoes.  Bats help spread seeds for some nuts, figs and cacao – the main ingredient in chocolate.  Thanks to bats, we have plants like agave and the iconic saguaro cactus.  Bats are important, albeit accidental, pollinators and seed-spreaders.


What about vampire bats?  Yes, they are real.  These bats live in Mexico and Central and South America.  Targeted prey includes pigs, horses, and birds – but mostly cattle.  Humans are rarely a host, and never a preferred host. These are small bats, weighing only about 2 ounces.  Rather than sucking blood like the vampires of movie-gore, they make a small cut with their teeth and lap up the flowing blood with their tongues.  They are so light and graceful that they can sometimes drink blood from an animal for more than 30 minutes without waking it up.  These bats have made an artform of acquiring their liquid lunch.


The phrase “blind as a bat” is another misnomer.  Bats can see but since they are nocturnal they use echolocation to navigate in the dark.  They emit sounds through their mouth or nose at ultrasound frequencies, above human hearing.  These sound waves bounce off objects in their environment, enabling the bats to pin-point the location of prey or objects within their fly-zone.  Some species of bats can reach speeds o over 100 miles per hour.  Bats are great night-flyers.


North Dakota is home to eleven species of bats and while we may fear them, it is bats that now have something to fear.  A fungus disease known as white-nose syndrome affects bats during hibernation and has killed millions of bats across the country.  The disease is not well-understood, so research continues.  This effort to help bats is worth the investment, since they contribute more than $3 billion per year in pest control services.  Don’t forget the pollination and seed dissemination services.  There’s nothing spooky about that.


NOTE:  The opening line is the lyrics of The Addams Family song by Andrew Gold!