Bats: The Unseen Ally

Discover more about this garden champion, and learn how you can go to bat for them on your property.

Photo by Getty Images/Mumemories.

Few animals in history have been so misunderstood and maligned as bats. For centuries, these flying mammals have been associated with evil and death, and reviled as carriers of disease. The media has perpetuated these myths, portraying them as frightening, bloodsucking, rabies-infested flying vermin, giving a bad rap to creatures that really do a lot of good. However, in the last couple of decades, thanks to the efforts of conservation groups and federal and state wildlife agencies, bats are being seen in a different light for the valuable role they play in our ecosystems.

North America is home to 47 species of bats. Most are insect-eaters, the exception being three species that feed on nectar and pollen and are found throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico. Texas holds the title of “battiest” state in the country — 32 bat species call the Lone Star State home at various times of the year. According to Bat Conservation International, bats make up about a fifth of the world’s mammal population.

An adult bat clings to a tiny slice of watermelon. Photo by Getty Images/JohnMaldoror.

Bats are nocturnal, hunting in the dim hours between sunset and sunrise. Contrary to popular perception, they aren’t blind. They can see, though many species use echolocation, navigating the night sky by emitting high-pitched (ultrasonic) noises and listening for the echoes to return. The sound waves reflect off objects, such as insects and surrounding obstacles, allowing bats to process the received data into a navigational layout in dark surroundings.

As the primary predators of night-flying insects, bats are critical to reducing insect pest populations, including those pesky mosquitoes that take some of the fun out of summertime and carry diseases. Bats are part of a healthy ecosystem, and integral to the balance of nature.

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