Bats often get a bad rap. People fear them because of myths and superstitions about vampires and the spread of disease. However, there are only three species of vampire bats out more than a thousand other species of bats, and they do not really suck blood. Bats are relatively resistant to disease.
These superstitions have made it difficult to educate people that bats are essential to the survival of many ecosystems and are of great help to human life. They hunt pesky insects, fertilize plants with their guano, pollinate many plants and are necessary to spread seeds that contribute to forest renewal.
Bats are nocturnal. At night they hunt, using a form of sonar called echolocation that helps them catch prey by using high-frequency sound waves to locate their exact position. Bats consume many insects, such as mosquitoes, that we consider pests. Some bats catch and consume up to 2,000 insects per night. Bats help keep crops, flowers and fruits free of pests. However, pesticides that farmers use to control insect populations have killed many bats.
Bats help to pollinate many plants, as they feed on nectar and fruit. In tropical areas, bats are especially helpful in contributing to new plant growth. Some plants around the world depend solely on bat pollination. These include the saguaro cactus of North America, the African baobab tree and the Australian ironwood. Bats are an essential contributor to the world's rainforests, and their numbers make up over 50 percent of the rainforest's mammal population.
Bats contribute to new plant group by dispersing seeds. Many bats, such as fruit bats, consume only the fruit and flowers of plants. Their feces, or guano, can carry many seeds, from which new plants sprout. Seed dispersal by bats is necessary for the protection and continual population of many flowering plants. This process has helped greatly in the renewal of rainforest areas.
Bat guano has been used as a plant fertilizer and enrichment for soil. Guano is rich in compounds like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that are necessary to stimulate plant growth. Bat guano can also help control toxins. Guano can be used indoors and outdoors to stimulate growth and flowering, and to prolong plant life.
Many species of bats around the world are endangered, and some are on the verge of extinction. It is important that we remember bats are beneficial to the survival of ecosystems from the tropics to temperate zones. Of the 45 species of bats in the United States, six are on the Endangered Species list. These include the gray bat, the Virginia big-eared bat and the Hawaiian hoary bat. To protect bats, we can work to conserve their natural habitats---they need insect-rich marshes, rivers, streams and forests to be able to feed themselves.
Some people build bat houses if they live in an area with a bat population, to give bats a safe place to raise their young. Some species of bats roost in palm trees, so if you have them in your backyard, don't cut them down, as they may be home to a new family of bats. You can block rats and other predators with a guard around the trunk of the tree.