Friday, October 24, 2014

Rerun Article: We're Batty For Bats

I can't believe fall is already deeply upon us! Soon we'll be singing Christmas songs! I hope everyone had a splendid week and is ready for a rerun article from 2012! That was a long time ago, but it is a pretty good article, so I figured I'd bring it back up. Hope you like it.

Days till:
It is: 7 days till Harvest Day, usually referred to as "Halloween"
It is: 9 days till Daylight Savings Time Ends
It is: 18 days till Veteran's Day
It is: 34 days till Thanksgiving

In the Spotlight:
OK, so I just have a small update for today concerning Jurassic World: remember when I said that the trailer for that movie would likely be released into theaters this November in front of the movie Interstellar? Well, that might not be the case according to my source. In fact, it might be pushed further back to the release of The Hobbit, on December 17, 2014. This is a bummer. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that we won't see the trailer debut on the internet. Let's stay hopeful!

Also I found out something about a movie I haven't mentioned in a long time: Inside Out. As you might recall, this is Pixar Animation Studios next film to be released and they've recently put the trailer on the internet! Take a look at it below:

It looks pretty cool to me. I can't wait to see this movie. It will be coming out on June 19, 2015, not long after Jurassic World!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
There are four groups of animals that have been gifted with the power of flight. These animals are birds, the extinct pterosaurs (or flying reptiles), insects and bats. All other “flying” creatures such as the flying squirrel, flying snake and the flying lemurs don’t actually fly – they glide. There is a difference. Bats are mammals but not rodents as commonly believed. Bats are the only mammals that can actually fly. We know this because bats are covered with fur, and only mammals have fur (pterosaurs and insects also have “fur”, but it’s a different type of fur).
Most scientists will tell you that bats evolved from little shrew-like mammals that chased insects by jumping from branch to branch and eventually evolved a wing membrane and were able to fly. But this is incorrect. Bats actually were created around 6,000 years ago when God created all the flying and swimming creatures on Day 5 of the Creation week (notice, this is before shrew-like animals came into existence on Day 6), just as the Bible says.

You may not know this, but there are actually hundreds of species of bats. They range from creatures the size of a mouse, to creatures with six-foot wingspans. Bats live in just about everywhere on the planet, in just about every habitat and continent, except for Antarctica. They can be found in jungles, deserts, mountains . . . just about everywhere. Bats are a very complex group of animals, so we don’t have time to discuss them all today, we will just discuss a few species.

There are two main groups of bats, the megabats and the microbats (the ones we’re going to look at today). The difference between the two is simple: Megabats are the really big, or mega-sized ones, and Microbats are the micro-sized ones. These are the bats we will look at today.
There are a lot of different species of microbats, and they have a wide range of diets. Most eat insects, and some eat . . . or rather drink . . . blood. But that’s not most bats. We’ll talk about the ones that drink blood in a minute though. Anyway, as I said before, bats are just about everywhere, and they are probably living near where you are too, it’s just that they’re nocturnal, so you’d have to go out at night to see them.
Bats wings are very different from bird wings (they aren’t just birds without feathers). Bird wings are consisted of the wing bone with skin and feathers attached. But bat wings are made up of the bat’s fingers that stretch out and have a special wing membrane in between them. Here are a few species:

Big Brown Bat

Long-Eared Bat

Vampire Bat

Horseshoe Bat

Tent-Making Bats
One common bat that lives a lot of places around the United States is called the Big Brown Bat (one of my personal favorite microbats, it can be found above). These bats grow about 4 to 5 inches long and have a wingspan of about 11 to 13 inches wide. Like most other bats, the big brown bat eats insects including mosquitoes, moths, beetles and wasps that they catch while in flight. Now a common belief is that bats are blind. Instead of sight, God gave them echolocation to find prey at night. But wait, before we go into what echolocation is, first we must find out if bats really are blind. And the answer is – they aren’t! So where’d that myth come about? Well, it may have something to do with an experiment with a bat. One time, some people blindfolded a bat to see if it could fly out of its cage (the bars had wide spaces), and it did. So those people probably figured that it was blind since it didn’t need eyesight to find its way out. (That also means the phrase, “Blind as a bat,” is a misnomer) Now, echolocation is a special thing God gave the bat. 

The red lines represent the bat's sounds and the green lines represent the sound bouncing off the insect and to the bat's ears
Echolocation works a lot like the sonar on a submarine. The trick is simple: the bat makes sounds (too high for us to hear with our naked ears – that is without special equipment) and the sounds bounce off objects around the bat and they come back to the bat. This is how bats can find prey in total darkness. Cool, huh? For big brown bats and other bats, this normally works out just great . . . except for some species of moth. Bats love moths, but some species of moths have a special “ear” that helps them hear the echolocation and at the last moment they can swerve out of the way. It drives the bats crazy! So that is why one bat has a special trick for catching those types of moths. It’s called the Long-Eared Bat. The long-eared bat uses echolocation to find where the moth is, but as it closes in for the kill, it turns its sonar off and just uses those big ears to hear exactly where the moth is before bon appetite! By the way, bats don’t get tangled in people’s hair. People probably thought this because sometimes bats will seem to swoop down on people. But in fact, it’s the insects that swoop down near the people and the bat is merely following the insects!

Big brown bats are the bats we often see flying around at night here in North America. They roost in large colonies that can be found in caves or even sometimes in old barns (not all bats roost in caves, some even roost in trees). Other than moths, they also eat mosquitoes, gnats, flies, and can even take spiders out of their webs. Taking a spider off of its web is not as easy as it sounds, as the bats can easily become tangled in the sticky silk. However, they do manage. Don’t think bats are restricted to invertebrates (e.g. spiders and insects), some species also specialize in fishing and “mousing”. You read right, they go “mousing”! I’m not sure that’s a word, but they really do hunt mice!

Bats however are not without predators, owls love to eat bats. This is why bats love going out on the darkest of nights, as owls, which rely on sight, can’t see very well in pitch black. Meanwhile bats use sound, not sight to “see” so they don’t need any light.

It is true that most microbats eat insects, but there are some with a more “horrific” diet. They drink blood and they are called Vampire bats! Vampire bats, contrary to popular belief aren’t outside waiting to suck your blood. First of all, they only live in central and south America! So there’s no way a bat could suck your blood in the United States! And another reason? There are only three species of bats that suck blood. Don’t think that the United States has always been safe from Vampire bats though, fossils show that they used to live in the Southwestern portion of the USA. If you lived back then in the other parts of the USA, France, Canada, Australia, Africa, Asia and etc. you’d always be safe – Vampire bats never lived in any of those places.
You have to admit, this Vampire Bat's face is absolutely cute!
But Vampire bats aren’t really that bad once you get to know them. So what do they do exactly? Well, a Vampire bat will leave its shelter at nighttime to find a large animal, perhaps a cow or a chicken (I know chickens aren’t large too us, but to a little bat they’re huge!), or perhaps a person. Then they land on the ground near the animal and use those sharp teeth to bite into the leg and draw blood. But perhaps the term “blood-sucking” is incorrect. For these bats don’t suck blood, they lap it up. Doesn’t that sound nicer? Special stuff in the bat’s saliva stop the blood from clotting, so the bat can just go on feeding. Then the bat will get up in the air (often making a quick bathroom break so it isn’t too heavy to fly home) and go back to its cave. These bats may seem mean, but they really have a “tender soul”, when arriving at their home cave, some bats didn’t get the chance to fly out and get some blood, maybe they were injured or sick. Then these hungry bats merely lick the side of the blood-stuffed bat’s head and the bat will cough up some drink for the hungry bat to eat, er . . . drink. See, Vampire Bats even make donations to help the poor!

As we just learned, bats are terribly misunderstood. They don’t get tangled in your hair, they aren’t (all) waiting there to suck blood, and they also don’t always carry rabies. It’s true that some bats might have rabies, but they are just as likely to get rabies as a dog or cat. So it would be unfair to call bats “rabies carriers”. Bats have been mistreated for years because of their bad rap. People have killed whole innocent bat colonies (and these weren’t even vampire bats), just because they didn’t understand them. We really should take care of the bats. God provided them to eat harmful and pesky insects and some bats that we didn’t discuss also work as pollinators for many plant species. Sometimes, bats need a little more helping hand though than just not killing them.
Check out the bat in the picture below:
That yucky white stuff on the cute little face of this bat is a fungus.
Notice that white stuff on its nose? Well, that’s a fungus. Bats with fungus growing on their noses have a disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS). It isn’t completely understood, but it is killing millions of bats, and millions of bats dead means billions of more flies, gnats and mosquitoes! So when a 13-year old named Gwynne Domashinski, needed a project for a science fair, she chose to study WNS and look for a solution. Her theory was that perhaps the moistness in the caves was causing the fungus to grow on the bats, since fungus grows extremely well in moist places. Perhaps by lowering the humidity the fungus will stop growing. So Gwynne got in touch with a bat scientist named Deeann Reeder and Gwyanne was invited to the lab to test the ideas about WNS and the humidity. It will take time to unravel the secrets of WNS, but every little thing helps (by the way, Gwynne won third place in the science fair in a statewide competition!).

So there’s a lot more to bats than what meets the eye. Even if we don’t get the opportunity to do something like Gwynne did (who’s was only 13 at the time), there are still ways we can help bats. For instance, we can educate other people about bats and what their job is in nature. And we can also preserve bats habitat and give them places to sleep in the form of bat houses (sort of like a bird house). We should be good stewards of bats, just like God had instructed us in the book of Genesis in the Bible, because bats are really wonderful creatures.

DisclaimerMany (or in some cases all) of the photographs and images above are not mine. If you own one or more of them and would like them to be removed, politely let me know via one or both of the email addresses above.

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