Bats

Some bats are blood-sucking vampires?

Yes, some are. But fortunately no bats in Africa suck blood. The vampire bats living in South America are not as aggressive and sadistic as one might imagine a vampire to be. Rather, they will wait until animals, such as cattle for example, are asleep and then make a small incision in the animal’s skin and lap up drops of blood. Remember, they probably don’t want the animal to wake up and spoil their meal so they try to be as gentle and undamaging as possible. Added to this, the human race has benefited greatly from new blood-thinning medicine invented after studying the anti-coagulants present in the saliva of vampire bats. This blood-thinning medicine is vital for patients whose arteries in the heart or lungs have become blocked as a result of a tendency to form blood clots, which can be potentially fatal.

You will get rabies if bitten by a bat?

The fact is that most recorded cases of people getting rabies are as a result of their having been bitten by abandoned domestic dogs that are carrying the disease.

Bats fly into your hair?

At times I’ve worked in bat caves and roosts for hours at time and have been in a multitude of bat roosts during research and never has a single bat flown into my hair and become entangled there. Of course, if one is in a bat cave with over 20 000 bats living in one relatively small chamber and they get a fright, they may flutter around in confusion and occasionally a bat will accidently touch a person or perhaps even land on them for a rest, but bats don’t purposefully attack people or aim for their hair when they see someone walking by. (Although common sense will tell you that it might be unwise to have a hairdo like Tina Turner from the 80’s when visiting bat caves!)

Bats are blind?

No, definitely not; in fact they can see much better than humans can. Just think of a small insect like a mosquito flying at night in the dark in your garden. Would you be able to see it and keep your eye on it? I wouldn’t. So if a bat can see the mosquito and chase after it to prey on it, then it must have better eyesight than humans. Yes, insect-eating bats do use a sophisticated radar-like navigation method called echolocation, and this enables them to “see” in a pitch-black cave or on a dark moonless night, but, if energy use is considered, that would be a very costly way of navigation. So the obvious solution is to use their eyesight when enough moonlight is available, and their echolocation when it is not. Generally bats simultaneously use both their eyes and echolocation to find insects or avoid flying into obstacles, except when they are in a cave where no light exists at all.

Role of Bats in our Ecosystems (Ecosystem Services)

The majority of bats eat night-flying insects, including many agricultural pests. As the primary predators of night-flying insects bats play a significant role in controlling insect populations. Estimates from studies show that some bats eat more than 70% of their weight in insects each night and some pregnant females at 100% of their body weight (that’s a lot of insects!). Another way of looking at it, taken from an example on the Bat Conservation International website, is that: “A single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a single hour.” Leading to speculation about their role in controlling mosquitoes – which may reduce the spread of malaria. De Hoop cave is the largest known roost in South Africa with an estimated 300,000 bats congregating there each year. Due to the large numbers of bats eating insects in the area (an estimated 100 tons every year) the farmers are believed to be saving thousands of rands on insecticides each year.

Bats in southern Africa

There are nine different bat families in southern Africa. The vast majority of these bats are insect eating and the rest are fruit bats which feed on nectar or fruit. Of the 1,250 species of bats known worldwide only three are vampire bats. In Africa we do not have any vampire bats but we do have false vampire bats (unfortunately we only have one species) that eat soft and hard bodied insects.

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