We’re Batty for Bats!

Na na na na na na na na na na … bats!

A full moon rises over the saguaro cacti and rocky desert mountains on another day in the Sonoran Desert. But this day is special, because it is also October 31st, and the last day of International Bat Week! Celebrate with us by learning about these often misunderstood creatures of the night.  

Belly flop! Photo by Kenny Don.

Bats are survivors!

At least 50 million years ago, bats could be found soaring through the night skies. Since then, they have evolved to live everywhere except the most extreme tundra and arid regions, and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. This long evolutionary history and their incredible adaptability allowed the bat to develop a huge diversity of different physical and behavioral adaptations to survive in such distinct environments. The order of bats are divided into 18 families and comprise over 1,200 individual species, accounting for nearly 20% of global mammal fauna! Think about that for a minute. If you cut a pie representing all mammals into five slices, one entire slice would be all bats!

Photo by Kenny Don.

Bats eat everything! Well, not everything

It is a myth that bats are all blood-sucking creatures. In fact, only three bat species are true “vampires!” Bats employ almost every mammalian feeding strategy. Some of the bats important to the Sonoran Desert ecosystem are herbivores, visiting cactus flowers like the mighty saguaro blooms, feasting on nectar and fruits and pollinating desert plants as they journey through the night. Other bats are insectivores, efficiently hunting various nocturnal insects including some agricultural pests. Others still are carnivores, keeping small animal populations in check, and some, like the fish-eating bat, feed on small minnows and aquatic invertebrates. No matter what or how they’re eating, bats represent a crucial link in the food chain of our ecosystems!

Bats are cute!

These adorable creatures come in all shapes and sizes, allowing individual species to fulfill distinct ecological niches, displaying a fascinating range of physical adaptations. The smallest bats weigh less than a penny, and the largest have up to six-foot wingspans! A great example from our own region includes the Lesser long-nosed bat, a nectarivorous (animal who feeds on plant nectar) creature with a slender snout and lengthy tongue equipped with brush-like papillae for lapping up sweet nectar.

Lesser long-nosed bats are adept fliers, as they are migratory and can fly up to 14 miles per hour! They pollinate saguaro and organ pipe cactus, as well as century and agave plants! Next time you enjoy a refreshing margarita, thank a Lesser long-nosed bat. Photos by Kenny Don.

Bats are threatened by human development.

We celebrate bats not just because of their incredible diversity and essential roles within our ecosystems, but also to raise awareness about their declining numbers. Like many animals, they are threatened by habitat loss due to human development, industry, and deforestation. You can celebrate bats this season by building a bat house in your yard! These structures have been successful in providing safe roosts for bat colonies as their natural habitats decline.

Written by Elena Makansi.