Our night skies are filled with these gentle, secretive, flying mammals - going about their business of keeping insects and mosquitoes under control. Most of us are unaware of the presence of bats and have never come into contact with one. Awareness of these captivating creatures is paramount to their conservation. Many myths abound, but the truth about the enigmatic bat is far more fascinating!
Dispelling some myths about bats:
- Bats are not blind; they have excellent vision. They need a little help to find their food as they hunt in the dark for tiny little insects. To do this they use echolocation, an intelligent adaptation which uses high-frequency sound to locate their mosquito-sized prey.
- They are not dirty, disease-carrying vermin. Bats constantly groom themselves and their pups. They are so clean that they even comb themselves using the claws on their front wing or hind feet.
- Bats do not eat your hair, nor do they chew your ears. Their highly sophisticated echolocation skills enable them to detect something as fine as a strand of hair. They are extremely wary of human beings and tend to keep their distance. It is the presence of light (and therefore insects) which brings them into close contact with humans.
- They are not vampires. There are 3 species of bats that feed on blood, but they do not bite into your neck and suck your blood. They consume blood from large mammals, like cattle, by making a small bite in the skin and licking the blood from the wound. Vampiric bats are found in Central and South America. South Africa has a False Vampire Bat species, as it eats insects.
- True rabies has never been found in bats in South Africa. Rare incidences of a rabies-like virus, known as Lyssavirus, have been recorded. All wild animals should be treated with caution, and one should avoid handling them with bare hands.
- Bats do not hunt humans. They may mistakenly fly into your living space and become disorientated. Rather than swatting at the bat or trying to catch it, just open a door and allow it an opportunity to make its way outside again. Turning on an outside light and switching off an inside light makes their escape a little easier. If a bat lands on your floor do not handle the bat without protection, it may bite you, it is scared! Use a dry dishcloth to throw over the bat and then gently, but firmly, pick it up and take it outside. Open the cloth on a table or chair and let it be, it needs height in order to take off.
Some fascinating facts about bats:
- Bats are a protected species in South Africa, it is illegal to harm them. Please don't call a pest control company to remove bats from your home! Rather contact one of the Wildlife centers listed at the bottom of the blog if you feel that the bats are a problem. The best would simply be to let them stay, and enjoy the fact that they eat mosquitoes!
- They are the only mammals capable of sustained, powered flight, as well as being the second largest order of mammals; they make up 20% of all mammal species.
- Bats belong to the order Chiroptera, meaning "winged hands" There are two primary suborders. Megachiroptera: large, old-world, fruit-eating bats and Microchiroptera: echolocating bats.
- There are over 1200 species of bats worldwide, they occur on every continent except Antarctica.
- Southern Africa is home to 75 species: 20 species of insectivorous bats and 2 species of fruit bats are listedÂ as threatened on the ICUN Red List.
- Bats have the same arm and hand bones as humans, their wings look like a human hand, with four elongated fingers and a thumb.
- They are unique from other mammalians when it comes to age and longevity - compared to their size, and weight they have an exceptionally long life.
- Bats come in all sizes, the smallest species is the Bumblebee bat and weighs only 2 grams. One of the largest bats in the world is the Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox and weighs up to 1.4 kg.
- They are nocturnal, they have fur, bear live young and the mothers suckle their pups. Insectivorous pups are born pink and hairless. They cannot fly and are completely dependent on their mothers.
- Insectivorous bats eat a lot! They can consume between 600 to 1000 mosquito-sized insects a night.
- Different bat species fly at different altitudes. They are superb aerial acrobats. Insectivorous bats are able to eat on the wing, catching their insect prey in their tail or wing membranes and then reaching down to grab the prey with their mouth, all whilst flying.
- They are also highly sociable, living in colonies with highly evolved social structures. Jane Burd of the Rewild Bat Rehabilitation Centre describes them as "compassionate warmongers" because they make friends and fight with one another; they console each other; they chat and gossip with each other within their colonies.
- Bats use language, or different dialects, which they learn in the nursery of their colony. Each bat colony has its own language! And according to a recent study by Tel Aviv University in Israel, pups are so smart that they have the ability to learn foreign languages or dialects of other colonies.
What to do if you find an injured bat?
Never touch a bat with your bare hands. Quietly approach the bat and throw a dry dishcloth over it, and then gently but firmly pick it up and take it outside. Bats need height in order to take off, so open the cloth on a chair or table.
If the bat is unable to leave, please call a professional wildlife care centre for advice. While waiting, place the bat into a box with a lid. (Don't use a glass jar as the bat will suffocate). Ensure you have a few small breathing holes poked into the box (make holes before putting the bat inside it). Place the bat, with the cloth, into the box and close the lid, put the box in a warm, dry, dark and quiet place. Please handle the bat as little as possible to avoid further injury to the bat. Please do not let young children handle the bat, and keep pets away from the injured bat. Do not attempt to offer any kind of food or water to the bat.
Wildlife Care Centres:
Call a wildlife care centre or your local NSPCA for further help and advice. Be sure to ping your location, and give this information to the wildlife care centre, so the bat may be returned to the area where its colony is.
- Rewild Bat Rehabilitation Centre 082 457 7297
- Friends of Free Wildlife 082 561 3681
- Wildlife in Crisis 072 124 4156
- Wild and Free 079 988 5748
Guest blog by Sheryl Gibbons of Friends of Free Wildlife Association
Rentokil South Africa is a proud supporter of Friends of Free Wildlife Association.