Written by Micah Carnate-Peralta
As the days get shorter and the night takes over during this time of the year, the darkness finds its way slowly creeping in and we begin to feel the chill in the air as it rustles through the leaves in the trees. Fall approaches ever so subtly and the creatures of the night come out to play knowing Halloween is just around the corner. Some animals are associated with the scary holiday because of their spooky appearance - none are match against the fearsome bats!
Generally, bats are stigmatized as evil creatures that must be avoided at all costs for they may bite your neck and suck your blood like a vampire. However, bats are actually the heroes of the night since they provide plentiful benefits for us to enjoy! Globally, there are over 1,000 bat species and they’re the only mammals that can fly! Although considered nocturnal animals, bats are not blind, which many of us wrongly assume. Rather, bats depend on sound with their large ears and use of echolocation, sight with their large bulbous eyes, and smell with their well-developed nose when hunting for their prey. At ZooTampa, you are able to behold the beauty of two fruit-eating bat species in their habitat, the Malayan Flying Fox and Straw-Colored Fruit Bat.
Here are some fascinating Malayan Flying Fox facts:
- They hold the title as being one of the largest bat species on Earth,
- Malayan Flying Fox bats are found in Southeast Asian countries
- They have wingspan reaching up to 5 ½ feet wide with an average weight of two pounds.
- Their size and dark fur may seem intimidating, but when you get to see one in person, their cute big eyes and nose will distract you.
In comparison, the Straw-Colored Fruit bat is quite different:
- They are located in the southern half of Africa
- Fruit bats are smaller a wingspan of 2 ½ feet
- They form the largest mammal migration in the world! Every fall, it is estimated that over 8 million Straw-Colored Fruit Bats migrate to Kasanka National Park in Zambia.
Both of these bat species are frugivores, with their diet consisting of fruits, but they do also feast upon nectar and flowers. These bats depend on their eyesight to spot fruit as they fly around at night in the rainforest, as well as their sense of smell in order to pinpoint the location of flowers emanating their sweets scents. These bats play an important part in rainforest ecosystems worldwide because they are key seed dispersers, which help to regenerate tree growth. According to the US Forest Service, fruit eating bats are also important because they pollinate more than 300 different fruits! Without them, we would not be able to enjoy many of our guilty pleasures today like chocolate and tequila!
Here in Florida, insect eating bats call our own backyards their home. A single insect-eating bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects per hour and at least 6,000 to 8,000 bugs each night! If you do not like mosquitoes, who have the capability of carrying deadly disease, we must respect and protect these bats.
Unfortunately, bats are fighting against many challenges in their native homes. Rainforests are being deforested due to human development causing destruction of their habitat and food sources. The U.S. bat populations are currently in decline because of a cold-loving fungus called White-nose syndrome. During hibernation, this fungus will grow on the bat, first eating away at their energy reserves, then leaving them to starve before winter ends. This has caused at least 6 million bat deaths since 2006 and that number continues to grow. Half of all U.S. bat species have become listed as threatened, endangered, or near extinction.
We can help bats fight against extinction in many ways:
- Purchase or build bat houses and place them in your yard is one way to help bats.
- Visit their habitat in Wallaroo Station and hang around for a bit – just as the bats do!
- Attend a bat chat during Creatures of the Night! During this Halloween event, the Education and Aviary teams will give three bat chats, including special enrichments. You will have the opportunity to watch the bats eat and fly around their home.
Just remember, bats are not scary creatures. Instead, they are heroes of the night!