Bats get a bit of a bad rap, being associated with scary things like vampires and viruses, but many people don't know what fascinating creatures they can be, and how vital they are to the survival of many other species.
1. Without bats, there would be no tequila.
The blue agave plant Agave tequilana, native to Mexico and used to make tequila is pollinated by a leptonycteris nivalis, or the Greater Long-Nosed Bat.
Greater Long-Nosed Bat
There would be none of this.
Photo by Ralf Roletschek, uploades as part of Wiki Loves Cocktails.
Come to think of it, I imagine a few people have woken up in the morning wishing there was no such thing as Tequila, but if you're one of them, bear with me, there are more cool bat facts to come.
2. Vampire bats came up with the idea of blood donation before humans.
Vampire bats are tiny, found only in the Americas, and feed mostly on the blood of other mammals, such as cows, and only rarely on humans. They are generous creatures who will adopt orphans of their own species and will donate blood (by vomiting it up) to another bat who is starving. It's sweet, in a disgusting kind of way.
The majority of bats found in Australia are insectivorous. They eat moths, beetles, spiders and flying termites. If you're not a fan of bugs, spare a thought for these flying exterminators.
4. They can navigate using echolocation.
Similar to dolphins and whales, many species of bat can navigate using echolocation. The emit ultrasonic sounds and compare the outgoing pulse with the returning echoes to produce detailed images of their surroundings. This allows them to navigate and even hunt in total darkness. Pretty cool, no? 5. Flying foxes are vital to the pollination and seed dispersal of many native Australian forest trees.
Eucalpytus tereticornis. From Wikimedia commons, by user "Ethel Aardvark", CC BY 3.0.
When flying foxes, or fruit bats, forage for nectar and fruit they pick up a lot of pollen on their fur which is then transferred to the flowers of trees many kilometers away. Trees like eucalypts which rely on cross pollination need the bats to get their pollen from one tree to another over the great distances (up to 50km in a single night) the bats fly. They also disperse seeds by carrying fruit away and dropping it accidentally, eating the flesh of the fruit and spitting out the seeds or eating the fruit and passing the seeds through their gut. They have a short digestive tract, so the seeds are not digested and can still germinate. Next time you're annoyed about the mess bats make of your backyard fruit trees, bear in mind that we need them to keep our native bush alive (Dr Patrina Birt, Bat Conservation and Rescue QLD Inc.).
For more information on flying foxes and their role in our environment you can download a brochure by Dr Patrina Birt here.
A bat venturing out during the day to feed on some fallen papayas due to habitat disturbance caused by Cyclone Larry in 2006. Image from CSIRO.
7. As native mammals, Flying foxes are protected under Queensland law.
This means they are not allowed to be harmed or killed without a permit issued by the QLD government. The Spectacled flying fox and Grey-headed flying-fox are also protected under federal laws as a threatened species. Their numbers have declined significantly due to loss of habitat and slaughter by humans.
8. There are over 1000 different species of bat.
In Australia this includes four species of megabats: The Little Red, Grey-headed, Black and Spectacled Flying-foxes.
9. Bats are the only flying mammals.
While other animals, like sugar gliders, can glide, bats are the only mammals capable of continued flight, unless you count us humans building ourselves aeroplanes.
10. They're adorable.
Look at his wittle face!
Spectacled Flying Fox. Image from CSIRO Science Image Library.