Bat Watching―Insect Eaters of the Night Sky

If you like birdwatching, why not consider bat watching? These harmless, fascinating, and valuable creatures are certainly worth watching.
AnimalSake Staff
Last Updated: Mar 7, 2018
By Earl Hunsinger

Many of us enjoy birdwatching. We may put up elaborate or expensive feeders and houses in the hope of attracting these feathered creatures to our backyard. We may like the challenge of trying to spot a rare species, or at least one that we've personally never seen. We're amused by their antics, and enthralled by their colorful plumage. We may be concerned that man, and the progress of his civilization, has destroyed the habitat, nesting sites, or food sources of certain species. Whatever the reason, we like birds.

Yet birds aren't the only flying creatures worth watching, and protecting. More and more, bat watching is gaining in popularity. I know what you're thinking―not bats. Bats are ugly; they're dirty; they carry disease. You won't admit it, but you think that bats are scary.

In reality, bats are misunderstood. They are the victims of centuries of bad publicity. They are normally very shy and gentle creatures. They are very clean, grooming themselves daily, like a cat. Like any mammal, bats can get rabies and there have been cases of people dying from being bitten by a rabid bat. However these cases are rare. Ten times more people die from dog attacks every year than from rabid bats.

But bats are ugly! Since it has been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it's hard to argue with this feeling. It's important, though, to recognize that that's what it is―a feeling. It's the same type of feeling that causes many to love ladybugs and butterflies, but hate other kinds of insects. Just like some people hate rats but love hamsters or gerbils. If it helps, try to think of bats as cute and cuddly flying gerbils.

In contrast to the rumors and bad press that bats have been the victims of over the years, facts show them to be fascinating creatures. Imagine being able to detect a mosquito flying in complete darkness just from the echo returned when you yell at it. Bats can do this while flying and while thousands of other bats are yelling at the same time. Their hearing is so acute that they can differentiate between echoes that arrive 2 to 3 millionths of a second apart. This is several times better than the best military sonar equipment. This makes a bat's sonar so sensitive that it can detect a three-dimensional shape to within about the width of a human hair.

If that's not enough of an incentive to develop an interest in bats, think about the good that they do. You may know that bats eat insects, but did you know that some eat nectar, like hummingbirds, pollinating flowers as they move from one to the next. Merlin D. Tuttle, a recognized authority on bats and the founder of Bat Conservation International of Austin, Texas said, "Fruit and nectar-eating bats that disperse seeds and pollinate flowers are vital to the survival of rain forests and to the production of associated crops worth millions of dollars annually."

Their contribution toward keeping insects under control is also important, especially if you want to spend time in your backyard without having to worry about mosquitoes. According to Tuttle, one type of insect-eating bat can capture up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour and eat 3,000 insects in a night, per bat.

So, have I convinced you? Are you ready to get some bats in your backyard? Just like birds, bats can be encouraged to visit by a few simple steps. A water feature, such as a pond or birdbath, might encourage bats. Plants and flowers that encourage insects will also encourage bats to visit. You can also buy or build special bat houses (like birdhouses) to encourage bats to live near your property.

If you're not ready yet to invite bats into your yard, you're probably not yet ready to visit a colony of bats in a bat cave (that's what it's called). However, you might enjoy watching them fly at some safe distance. There are bat watch areas in many places around the world, where bats fill the night sky by the hundreds of thousands. Like visiting a zoo, this is a safe, fascinating, and educational experience.

If you love birds and birdwatching, why not consider extending your hobby to include these fascinating creatures. Like many species of birds, they too need your love and protection. Even if you think that they're ugly, it's hard to deny that their incredible design and the work they do on our behalf has at least earned our respect and gratitude.
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