|My book, The Bat Scientists!|
As the weather warms and the bugs come out, be thankful that hungry bats are also waking up from their long winter naps! Bats are furry, winged, nocturnal animals. They are the only mammals that can fly. Bats are the biggest eaters of night-flying insects, like moths, beetles, and mosquitoes. Bats take a real bite out of the bug population. A single little brown bat—who weighs about as much as a nickel and a dime—can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a hour!
While most of us appreciate fewer mosquitoes and flies to swat, crop pests are where bats really make a difference. Some of the most destructive agricultural pests are earworms, bollworms, fruitworms, and other moth caterpillars. Luckily, these moths are on the menu of many bats. Recent research in south-central Texas shows that Mexican free-tailed bats alone do bug-eradicating work equivalent to $1.7 million in pesticides every year. Not having to use as much chemical pesticides also helps the ecosystem, as well as saving farmers money.
Just how do amazing bats catch moths at night while both predator and prey are flying in the dark? Bats are extraordinary echolocators. As the word hints, echolocation means locating something with echoes. Like sonar, echolocation gathers information by bouncing and interpreting sounds. The reflected sounds from a bat's call or chirp convey distance, speed, size, and density. The brain of a bat turns this sensory data into a kind of picture of its surroundings. An insect-hunting bat is such a terrific echolocator that it can find a tiny bug in the dark—and tell how big it is, whether it's a beetle or bee, how fast it's moving, and in which direction. The "Moth Catchers" activity below is a fun, active, predator-prey game that can help kids better understand echolocation. Give it a try!
Bats are amazing creatures. They see with sound, devour pests, have pups while hanging upside down, and live extraordinary long lives. My respect and fascination with these furred fliers has grown through writing about them in The Bat Scientists. Working on the book-app Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night really made me appreciate the diversity of bats around the world—more than a thousand different species. There are giant fruit-munching flying foxes, bats that make tents, nectar-sipping long-nosed bats, bats that live in colonies of millions, and bats that migrate hundreds of miles.
Most of all, I've learned that bats need our help. There are many threatened and endangered species of bats around the world. In North America a horrifying disease, called white-nose syndrome, is spreading westward across the continent. It's already killed millions of cave-dwelling bats. To help raise awareness, the United Nations declared 2011-2012 the International Year of the Bat. There's no better time to find out how you can help these astounding animals. Give them a warm welcome!
|Click on activity to enlarge and/or print.|