How do bats move around in the dark?
All bats can see, but most use a special sonar system called echolocation. These bats broadcast high frequency calls through their mouths or noses and then listen to the echos bouncing back from the surrounding objects. In this way, they may detect all relevant habitat features and identify obstacles, prey or predators even in total darkness.

 

Why do bats hang upside down?
Bats have specialized tendons that hold their toes in place so that they can cling to their roosts without expending any energy. In fact, bats must flex their muscles in order to take off the roosting surface and drop into flight. Hanging upside down without any effort also provides bats with roosting space safe from predators on the ceilings of caves, in trees, buildings, bridges etc.

 

What do bats eat?
There are more than 1100 different species of bats in the world and each has developed special adaptations so that a great variety of diets are represented. There are insectivorous, carnivorous, piscivorous, sanguivorous, frugivorous, nectarivorous and pollen-eating species. Seventy % of all the bats in the world eat insects, and such a diet allowed them to inhabit most regions, occupying all latitudes except the Poles. Frugivorous bats instead are confined to tropical climates, while in the deserts there are nectar and pollen-feeding bats. Only three species feed on blood of domestic animals and live in Latin America.

 

Where do bats roost?
Not all bats spend their days roosting in caves: some species roost in trees, mines, buildings and bridges. The wide variety of bat roosts reflects their biodiversity. In the tropics there are bats roosting under the leaves of the banana tree, others roost inside the hollow joints of bamboo stems, some others use spider webs or even termite nests. In Europe, for example, the barbastelle bat can roost beneath loose bark of dead trees, whereas other forest species such as noctule bats may use woodpecker holes. Each species has its own special requirements. Many bat populations are threatened due to loss of their specific roosting habitats.

 

How long do bats live?
Despite their small size, bats are long-lived animals. Banded bats caught in the wild can be 30 years old or older (up to 41!). Unlike other mammals of similar size, as rodents, they also have definitely low reproductive rates since females of most species produce just one baby per year.

 

When do bats hibernate?
In general bats hibernate from late autumn until early spring. They fly from their late spring – summer roosts in search of caves and mines. In such places they can find the right microclimate for hibernating, that is high humidity and constant temperature.

 

How large are bats?
Bats range in size from wingspans of nearly 1,5 m and weights of almost 1kg, to tiny species, as the bumblebee bat, with a wingspan of 15 cm and weighing only 2 g. The largest bat occurring in Europe is the greater noctule (Nyctalus lasiopterus) with a wingspan of 46 cm and a mean body mass of 50g, while the smallest species is the Common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) with a wingspan of 25 cm and a weight of about 4 g.

 

How many kinds of bats are there?
There are more than 1,100 species of bats in the world. Of these, about 180 are Megachiroptera, also known as ‘flying foxes’ and exclusive of the old world. The remaining are called Microchiroptera, found worldwide except in the Poles.

 

What are flying foxes?
These are a group of bats living in the Old World tropics of Australia, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific Islands. They are named after their faces, resembling those of foxes. They have large eyes and good sense of smell to find the ripe fruit they feed on. Most species cannot echolocate, with the only exception of one genus (Rousettus) possessing a rough echolocation system. Flying foxes are pollinators and seed dispersers, thus playing an important role in rain forest regeneration.

 

What is guano?
Guano is the collective term used for bat or bird droppings, used for many years to fertilize crops.

 

Why conserving bats?
Bats play key roles in many ecosystems. Worldwide, they are primary predators of vast numbers of insects, thus limiting their populations. Moreover, they contribute to control crops and forests’ pests. Fruit-eating bats disperse the seeds of plants critical to habitats such as the deserts of Southwest America and tropical rainforests, and of pioneer plants for the natural reforestation of cleared or burned areas. Nectar-eating bats are often the only pollinators of many economically important plants, such as the coco.
Bats are also important for the guano they provide which is one of the world's best fertilizers and is also a major food source for the other life inside cave systems. They are also interesting subjects for ageing research since their longevity is reported to be correlated with replicative longevity, low brain calpain activity, and reduced reactive oxygen species production. Moreover they are studied because their high plasma cholesterol is not correlated with cardiovascular disease.
We can say that bats help us having healthier crops, guarantee the existence of ecosystems such as rainforests, deserts, and cave systems, are indispensable for the production of economically important fruits such as mangos, bananas, figs, tequila, etc, and, why not, they also help medical research. Unfortunately, bats are rapidly declining all over the world and among the causes of this decline are habitat destruction, use of pesticides and, not least, unjustified human intolerance and persecution.

 

Do bats make good pets?
It is important to remember that bats are wild animals and they are protected by the law. It is illegal to catch or keep them and also to disturb them or destroy their habitats.

 

Do bats carry diseases?
Bats can carry two diseases that concern humans: rabies and histoplasmosis.
Rabies can be prevented by vaccination. Italian bat researchers and rehabilitators are strongly advised to get vaccinated since they are constantly in contact with these animals. In all, bats are actually quite harmless, and do not exhibit any higher percentage of rabies infection than any other animal species. Rabid bats usually do not show aggressive behaviour: the virus normally paralyzes the bat, so it is advisable just not to pick up a bat lying on the ground without protective covering (thick gloves for instance).
Histoplasmosis is not transmitted directly by bats, it is conveyed by their guano. It is a fungus which lives in soil enriched by bird or bat droppings in warm, humid climates. Its spores, when inhaled, cause the infection which can be treated if properly diagnosed. Although it not endemic in our country in the last years it has been more and more frequently associated to HIV, that is to say there are cases of Italian AIDS patients infected with Histoplasmosis.

 

Glossary


 

Rabies


Rabiesis determined by a Rhabdovirus belonging to the genre Lyssavirus and it can infect both wild and domestic animals and humans. It is carried in the saliva and is usually spread by a bite, a wound or scratch that punctures the victim's skin. It provokes encephalitis and is fatal to both humans and animals, with very few exceptions.
This viral infection has two forms, the furious (75% of all cases) with periods of aggressive behaviour and the dumb form (25% of all cases) with no aggressive behaviour. It can be prevented by a pre-exposure vaccination which is advisable for everyone working in contact with animals (veterinarians, forest officers, wildlife officers, etc.) and a post-exposure prophylaxis in case of bites by a suspect animal.

 

 

Histoplasmosis


Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by inhaling the spores of a fungus called Histoplasma capsulatum. It primarily affects a person’s lungs and it can not be transmitted human to human. This fungus lives in the soil and breeds in closed, humid and warm places, especially in caves with a temperature of 20-30°C degrees. It is widespread in the southern part of the United States and in the Caribbeans, while it is rare in Europe and in Italy.