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Final article from Bat Conservation Trust: first published in CJS Professional Thursday 10 November 2016

Logo: Bat Conservation Trust

Why bats matter

Common pipistrelles, one of the most common UK species,  can eat up to 3000 midges in one night
Common pipistrelles, one of the most common UK species, can eat up to 3000 midges in one night

There are over 1300 species of bats in the world and they live in every continent apart from Antarctica. Despite the fact that bats make up approximately one in every four mammal species globally and are the second largest order of mammals (the first one being rodents), they are still one of the most misunderstood and undervalued animals on earth. Bats are so unpopular that in a UK poll conducted by OnePoll in 2015, they were voted the third least favourite mammal after rats and mice!

That same poll also showed the five top reasons why people disliked bats. These ranged from simply being scared of them to thinking they get tangled in your hair and/or are vermin. This research has shed some light on the widespread misconceptions and lack of knowledge associated with these animals. It seems that almost 2 out of 5 people surveyed still believe that bats are blind and 62% think there are fewer than 100 species of bats worldwide. Furthermore 60% of young adults (16-24) say they are scared of bats and 53% didn’t know that bats are protected in the UK.

Bats are not blind, all 18 species of UK bats see as well as humans do but since they are nocturnal animals relying on sight is extremely inefficient. That is why they navigate through the night sky using the remarkably accurate echolocation, a sonar like system similar to the one cetaceans (Whales and dolphins) use underwater; so no, they will not get tangled in your hair although they will wiz close to you as they hunt insects attracted by the heat of your body. Some bats in other parts of the world are active during the day and rely on vision; so much so they don’t even use echolocation.

Brown long-eared bat with moth
Brown long-eared bat with moth

Bats could not be further from vermin! They are incredibly useful and provide a number of ecosystem services that benefit us. In fact recent estimates indicate that insectivorous bats save corn farmers around the world a remarkable $1 billion a year in prevented crop damage. In tropical countries some species also play important roles as pollinators and seed dispersers of economically valuable plants such as agave, bananas, peaches, cloves, balsa, peppercorn and other.

Bats are also increasingly important for medical advances that help people. The saliva of vampire bats contains a substance that acts as an anti-coagulant which keeps the blood of its prey flowing while it feeds. This substance is called draculin and is being used in medicine as a treatment for strokes and heart attacks. Bats are very long-lived mammals relative to their body size, using more energy and living for longer than other mammals of a similar size. We know some bat species can live for 40 years or longer. Researchers have been studying bat’s DNA as they believe it could help understand age-related diseases.

Whether you love them or not, it is undeniable that bats are incredibly interesting and useful. I have only touched on a few of the reasons why bats matter and why you should help them in any way you can. This is easier than you think:

Next time you look up at the night sky and see a bat doing aerial acrobatics as it chases flying insects, I hope you will stop and watch with fascination at the wonder of these amazing furry flying friends.

And don't forget: When you make a purchase from CJS (your subscription for example) you can make a donation which we pass directly to them, do that here.  CJS is accepting donations until the end of 2016.