Set­ting record straight and fight­ing fear with facts

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPOSTER - JBJ RE­PORTER

MEN­TION the word bat and peo­ple con­jure up all sorts of scary tales about fright­en­ing crea­tures that suck your blood. A group called the Bat Con­ser­va­tion Group are ded­i­cated to stamp­ing out th­ese myths (un­true sto­ries) and ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about the im­por­tance on the sur­vival of bats in South Africa as they play a vi­tal role in the ecosys­tem.

Here are some facts to help you un­der­stand bats bet­ter: South Africa boasts some seven fruiteat­ing bat species as well as 65 in­sec­tiv­o­rous bat species.

De­pend­ing on the type of bat, they eat fruit, nec­tar, in­sects, fish, frogs and small mam­mals like mice.

Be­fore we con­sider some facts about bats let us al­lay some of the fears about bats with the truth.

Al­though bats make use of sonar ( sound waves) dur­ing flight, they are not blind.

They are also not in­ter­ested in get­ting tan­gled in your hair as they are ef­fec­tive at avoid­ing ob­jects while in flight.

They do not at­tack peo­ple and in­fre­quently carry dis­eases such as rabies.

In­ter­est­ingly, they ben­e­fit mankind by eat­ing in­sects and pol­li­nat­ing plants, mak­ing them a farmer’s friend.

Re­search shows that a bat colony at De Hoop Caves with 300 000 bats eats some 100 tons of in­sects a year.

Bats are not re­lated to mice and rats. They are not ro­dents. They be­long to the or­der of Chi­roptera, which means hand­winged. They are the only mam­mals ca­pa­ble of true flight.

They hi­ber­nate dur­ing win­ter. If there is a food short­age due to weather changes, bats can shut down their me­tab­o­lism and sleep un­til bet­ter times.

Bats have fur. The amount varies, de­pend­ing on the species and cli­matic con­di­tions. One species is fur­less, and an­other has pink wings and ears.

Like hu­mans, bats give birth to poorly de­vel­oped young, usu­ally one pup a year, and nurse them. Mother bats have been known to adopt each other’s young.

Echolo­ca­tion is unique to bats and some species of dol­phins and whales. It is sim­i­lar to com­mon sonar, in which a sound is emit­ted by the bat and bounces off in­sects or ob­jects and re­turns to the bat’s ears. Echolo­ca­tion en­ables bats to catch in­sects in flight.

Most fruit eat­ing bats do not echo lo­cate. They find their food by sight and smell.

Of the world’s 1 000 species, only three are vam­pire bats, th­ese are found in Cen­tral and South Amer­ica. Vam­pire bats do not at­tack hu­mans. They are small and they feed off an­i­mals and poul­try. They do not ac­tu­ally suck blood, but rather they make a small in­ci­sion with ra­zor sharp teeth and then lap up the blood.

FEED­ING TIME: De­pend­ing on the type of bat, they eat fruit, nec­tar, in­sects, frongs and fish.

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