Importance of Bats

Bats are the only mammal capable of true sustained flight, and with over 1,400 species and counting, they make up the second largest order of mammals. Organized into the order Chiroptera, meaning “hand wing” in Greek, their wings consist of elongated hand bones joined by a membrane of skin. Although bats are in fact not blind, most species are nocturnal and use echolocation, a form of biological sonar, to supplement their nighttime vision. Species of bats are found all over the world except in the most remote Arctic and Antarctic regions, and therefore much variation is seen among species. Most bats eat fruit or insects, but some species have also been observed eating rodents, fish, frogs, birds, smaller bats, and the blood of livestock and birds.

Since bats are found almost everywhere in the world, they play an important role in many different types of ecosystems and provide many ecosystem services to humans.

Pest Control

The majority of bat species are insectivorous, consuming up to their body weight in insects every night. Many of these insects are damaging agricultural pests that wreak havoc on crops such as corn and rice. Research has shown that bats are worth billions of dollars a year in reduced crop damage and un-needed pesticide use, which means bats are helping our economy in addition to reducing the number of pesticides entering our ecosystems. And more good news – bats also eat mosquitos!

Pest Control Info Graphic
Pollination Info Graphic

Pollination

Many fruit- and nectar-feeding bats pollinate ecologically and economically important plants around the world. In fact, over 500 species of flowers rely on bats as their major or exclusive pollinators. For example, some plants that are pollinated by bats include bananas, peaches, cacti, and blue agave, the plant from which tequila is made!

Seed Dispersal

As forests continue to disappear around the world, bats play a critical role in restoring those forests by dispersing seeds of plants into clearings. Unlike birds, who avoid flying over clearings for fear of exposure to predators, bats must cover large ranges at night to find food, and this allows them to spread seeds to areas unreached by other seed dispersers. In fact, seeds dropped by bats can account for up to 95% of first new growth! Bats disperse seeds for many economically important plants as well, including cashews, figs, avocado, and papaya.

Seed Dispersal Info Graphic

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