by Cheryl Soldati Clark
There are so many misconceptions out there about bats. Bats are not evil, blood-thirsty creatures that fly around at night trying to get caught in your hair. Bats are graceful and fascinating nocturnal creatures, which benefit humans by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds, and feeding on insect pests. In fact, we have bats to thank for pollinating over 300 species of fruits that we eat, such as, bananas, mangoes and guavas to name a few. These aerial mammals fly from sundown to sunrise, visiting flowers in the darkness and ingesting their sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen. They are also excellent pest managers eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes in one hour. A long-lived mammal, in the wild, bats can live for up to 20 years.
As pollinators, bats are attracted to green, purple and dull white flowers with very fragrant, fruit-like odor. They are also attracted to musky, fermented smelling flowers because they have an excellent sense of smell. They choose to feed from large, bell or bowl-shaped flowers (1-3.5 inches) that are open at night and have copious amounts of dilute nectar. The bat forces its head into the flower, trying to reach the nectar with its long tongue. Several species of night-blooming cacti are perfect candidates for bats to pollinate. Bats may eat the pollen, stamen and anthers of certain flowers while at the same time carrying large amounts of pollen on its face and coarse fur from flower to flower. Bats travel long distances every night thus making them effective cross-pollinators of plants that are widely spaced.
Bats can be found in almost every part of the world except in extremely hot and cold climates. They live on all continents except Antarctica. You can find more species of bats where the weather is nice and warm. Bats like to roost in groups in dark and humid environments. They also roost in different structures, such as, the underside of bridges, in caves, inside buildings, in cracks in between rocks, in mines, and in tree hollows.
Unfortunately, due to disease as well as human misunderstanding, many bat species are endangered and some have already gone extinct. Through the misuse of pesticides and habitat destruction, in the United States alone, nearly 40% of the native bat species are endangered. It is our job as human beings to protect these important pollinators by educating our children, friends and neighbors about the importance of bats and trying to eliminate the fear factor associated with these nocturnal mammals. Pollinator Week is a great time to start!