BATS IN KENYA

bats species
bats species

BATS

Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera. With their forelimbs adapted as wings, they are the only mammals capable of true and sustained flight. Bats are more agile in flight than most birds, flying with their very long spread-out digits covered with a thin membrane or patagium.

Bats are also used symbolically in religion, mythology, superstition, and the arts. Perceived medical uses of bats include treating epilepsy, night blindness, rheumatism, asthma, chest pain, and fever in some renowned world religions. Bat meat is consumed with many of all species hunted for food. Other economic uses of bats include using their teeth as currency and bat guanos as fertilizers.

WHAT ARE BATS?

Bats are nocturnal, flying animals that are known for inhabiting dark and secluded locations. Since the discovery of the first bat fossil dating back over million years ago, scientists have identified over 980 species of bats worldwide. Depending on the species, bats can live for up to 30 years. African bats fall into two major categories: large fruit bats and smaller, insect-eating bats, neither of which attacks people. In addition to a difference in size between the two types, there is a great variation in the extent and details of the wings, which are formed by the naked membrane of skin that extends from the neck to the wrist and between the fingers, and finally to the tail. Wing shapes vary from species to species. Usually, the swift fliers have long, narrow wings while the slow fliers have broad, rounded ones.

BATS APPEARANCE

A bat’s body is covered completely with hair and they tend to have rather large ears. Bats use their ears to help them detect the location of objects around them or to locate insects flying through the air. Depending on the species, an adult bat can weigh less than 1 oz. up to 3 lbs. Bats have two wings, consisting of a double membrane stretched across their elongated fingers and arm bones, which are their primary way of getting around. They have four limbs, two legs and two arms with the same bones as human hands modified as part of their wings.

Another interesting bat fact is they are the only mammal capable of true flight. The surface of a bat’s wing is equipped with bumps called “Merkel cells”. These bumps have tiny hairs that help sense airflow during flight so the bat can make adjustments for maximum flight efficiency.

bats identity
bats identity

BAT

Bats are myth-understood. There may be more myths about bats than any other wildlife. Some people think bats are blind bloodsuckers that fly into your hair and carry rabies. In fact, these flying mammals are extremely useful to humans and are gentle, intelligent creatures.

They’ve been called creepy, scary and spooky, but bats are an important species that impact our daily lives in ways we might not even realize. From pollinating our favorite fruits to eating pesky insects to inspiring medical marvels, bats are heroes of the night.

Bats are the only flying mammal. While the flying squirrel can only glide for short distances, bats are true fliers. A bat’s wing resembles a modified human hand — imagine the skin between your fingers larger, thinner and stretched. This flexible skin membrane that extends between each long finger bone and many movable joints make bats agile fliers.

Baby bats are called pups, and a group of bats is a colony. Like other mammals, mother bats feed their pups breastmilk, not insects. Most bats give birth to a single pup! There is at least one species that commonly has twins and that is the eastern red bat. Momma bats form nursery colonies in spring in caves, dead trees and rock crevices.

Bats can be found nearly everywhere, except in polar regions, extreme deserts, and a few isolated islands. They spend their daylight hours hiding in roosts around the tropics, dense forests, and wetlands. Roosts are where bats go to rest, usually in cracks and crevices that keep them hidden and protected. The most common roosts are existing structures such as caves, tree hollows, and old buildings.

No matter where they spend their seasons, all bats roost upside down. They can hang from their hind feet and legs while resting. Scientists still aren’t sure why bats do this, but here’s one theory: Bats have to fall into flight, which makes hanging upside down the best way to escape quickly.

Bats roost upside down, since the lightweight bones in their hind legs cannot support their body weight in an upright position. Their wings wrap around them like a cloak while they rest. Bats sleep during the day and go out at night in search of food. Bat wings are laden with blood vessels, which help them heal rapidly if injured.

The micro bats use echolocation to find their insect meals. They are able to “see” their world and detect prey by emitting short bursts of high-pitched sounds that bounce off objects and return to the bat as echoes. Most bats delay emitting a second signal until they have received the echo from the first.

WHAT DO BATS EAT?

Although various bat species eat different kinds of food, the vast majority consume a variety of insects such as moths, beetles, gnats, and crickets. In this respect, the bat’s nocturnal behavior provides certain advantages. Enormous numbers of insects fly at night, and with the exception of spiders, there are few competitors for such food. Other than the occasional owl or snake, there are also few predators that can capture or pursue a bat in the dark. Night brings cool temperatures which help dissipate the heat generated by the muscular activity of flight. Because the bat has a thin wing membrane, flying during the heat of the day could be hazardous causing excessive absorption of heat and resulting in dehydration and possible heat prostration. Nocturnality offers protection from the heat and helps the bat maintain its body temperature and moisture.

BAT CONTROL

Bat-proofing a structure is the best way to prevent an infestation and the best time to bat-proof is after bats have left for their hibernation periods in the autumn. Attempting to bat-proof at any other time raises the possibility of boxing in babies who will then look for other parts of the house to escape to. At dusk, homeowners should inspect the exterior of the home and observe where bats enter and exit. Common access points include attic louvers and under facia boards. It is recommended that homeowners seal any cracks or crevices with caulk and steel wool. Pay special attention to holes in the structure that lead to dark secluded areas, like attics and belfries. Also, screen attic vents and openings to chimneys, and install door sweeps. Exclusion is the only method to keep bats out long term.

DO BATS BITE?

Bats, in fact, will bite if they feel threatened or if they are handled improperly. A common misconception is that bats will attack humans for no reason, a myth that has been proven inaccurate. Most bat species feed on insects like moths and beetles. If you or someone you know has been bitten by a bat, it is important to seek medical care immediately to test for rabies transmission. Be sure to wash the bite and any other locations that have come in contact with the bat’s saliva.

BATS HABITS

Most bats leave their roosts at dusk and return around dawn. When traveling, they first stop at a stream or pond for a drink of water before feeding. Female bats of most species tend to only reproduce one pup, but some species can give birth to two to four pups. At birth, a baby bat weighs up to 25 percent of its mother’s weight. While young bats are taken care of by females in the colony, male bats do not contribute to the caring of the babies.

Bats are a very important part of the pollination process, as they feed on insects that visit flowers and also feed on various types of fruit that helps disperse seeds. Since many bats do feed on insects, they can help keep pest insect populations down.

BATS HABITAT

Bats can be found in almost every type of habitat. They live in deserts, woodlands, suburban communities, caves, and cities. Bats make their homes (roosts) in a variety of different structures. They can use trees, caves, cracks in buildings, bridges, and even the attic of a house.

Bats typically prefer warmer temperatures, security, food source and they have several ways of dealing with all these especially the cold. Some bats, including the big brown bat and the eastern red bat, hibernate in caves and trees to survive the winter. They can sometimes be seen flying around on warm winter days. Many bats migrate to warmer climates or even to a nearby cave.

Bats can be found in a variety of habitats, including deserts, tropics, wetlands, woodlands, suburban communities, caves, and cities. Bats spend the daylight hours resting in roosts, which can be made from a variety of structures like trees, caves, and human buildings. These structures provide shelter and help keep them protected. The seasons often dictate where a bat will choose its roost because many bat species hibernate in winter.

BAT DIET

The majority of bats worldwide are insectivores. They hunt at night and eat flying insects such as mosquitoes, beetles, and moths, many of which are considered pests. Bats provide an important ecological service by eating tons of insects.

Not all bats eat insects. Some live on a diet of nectar and fruit. Bats that feed on nectar also serve as pollinators to nighttime blooming plants. To attract these flying mammals, flowering plants have evolved a musty or rotten perfume. The smell is created by Sulphur-containing compounds, which are uncommon in most floral aromas, but have been found in the flowers of many plant species that specialize in bat pollination. Vampire bats do exist, but there are few ones close to none in most parts of the world.

BAT SPECIES

Bats are misunderstood creatures. The reputation they’ve earned through scary stories and myths doesn’t match their cute, furry appearance, or the important role these prodigious bug-catchers play in ecosystems worldwide.

With more than 1,400 identified bat species, they are the second most diverse order of mammal, outnumbered only by rodents. Bats are traditionally divided into two broad categories, megabats and microbats, though these classifications have more to do with their behavior than their size. Microbats use echolocation to hunt live prey, while megabats generally do not echolocate and feed on fruit.

Scientists have discovered species that defy this classification system, though, and it’s no longer regarded as entirely accurate. In any case, bat species are wildly diverse, ranging from flying foxes with 5-foot wingspans to tiny species that fit in the palm of your hand.

A few common bat species are the big brown bat, the little brown bat, and the Mexican free-tailed bat.

BIG BROWN BATS

Big brown bats: A female big brown bat will form her nursery colony with other pregnant females in the spring while the male roosts somewhere else, usually alone or with other males. These bats can become an issue around the home, as they commonly build colonies in attics and shutters. Big brown bats feed on insects like beetles, ants and flies. This species is able to fly up to 40 miles per hour, the fastest flight speed reported for any bat. When migrating, big brown bats travel short distances and hibernate in small groups in hollow trees, caves and buildings.

These bats are dark in color with a pale colored stomach. They have no fur on their wings and have 32 small teeth for feeding. Big brown bats are common in worldwide.

LITTLE BROWN BATS

Little brown bats: One little brown bat can catch up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour. They alternate feeding flights with rest periods, where they return to their nests to digest their meals. Unlike the big brown bat, this species’ flying habits are erratic, with flight speeds averaging 12.4 miles per hour. Female little brown bats will form nurseries in the spring after hibernating throughout the fall and winter months. Little brown bats tend to vary in color and have 38 teeth.

MEXICAN FREE-TAILED BATS

Mexican free-tailed bats: These bats usually live in larger colonies and are raised by the females. They can typically fly at about 10-15 miles per hour but can reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. If needed, Mexican free-tailed bats will fly up to 50-150 miles in a day to find food. Moths tend to be the favorite meal of the Mexican free-tailed bat, but they will eat other insects like ants and beetles. They can eat up to ⅓ of their body weight.

Mexican free-tailed bats build their colonies based on where they are located. They can build colonies in structures, such as houses or churches, but will opt to live inside caves in order to hibernate.

These bats vary in color from dark brown to dark grey. They have 32 teeth and can be found throughout the southern United States to the west coast.

BAT THREATS

A big concern most homeowners have is whether or not the bats infesting their home have rabies. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell if the bats have rabies solely based on appearance, so testing must be conducted. If transferred, rabies is a deadly disease that causes inflammation of the brain and sometimes death. However, bats are rarely rabid, with only less than 10 percent documented of becoming rabid.

In addition to the threat of rabies, the fungi that harbor in bat droppings can cause a lung disease known as histoplasmosis. An accumulation of droppings should be professionally decontaminated and removed.

Aside from affecting human health, bat droppings can also damage the home. One bat can produce between 20-30 droppings a day. Because bats typically colonize in large groups, the number of droppings in a home can easily pile up and cause roofs to cave in. Their waste also attracts other insect pests like cockroaches, and the smell of their feces encourages other bats to invade the home.

Bats can pose a serious health threat to humans if they are found inside a structure. Fungi that harbor in bat droppings can cause the lung disease, histoplasmosis. An accumulation of droppings should be professionally decontaminated and removed.

A small percentage of bats are also infected with rabies, but may not show symptoms. Rabies can be transmitted when saliva or even the body tissue of an infected animal comes into contact with another animal or human. Therefore, it is important to seek medical attention if you’ve had any unprotected, physical contact with a bat.

In addition, if an infestation develops, it is important to treat the area for bat mites and bat bugs, which will bite humans.

ARE BATS DANGEROUS?

All healthy bats try to avoid humans by taking flight and are not purposely aggressive. Most bats are about the size of a mouse and use their small teeth and weak jaws to grind up insects. You should avoid handling bats because several species, such as the hoary and big brown bats, have large teeth that can puncture skin if they are handled improperly.

Less than one percent of the bat population contracts rabies, which is a much lower rate of incidence than other mammals. Still, you should not handle or disturb bats, especially those that are active and appear sick during daylight hours. All bat bites should be washed immediately with soap and water, and a physician should be consulted.

IMPORTANCE OF BATS?

We need bats! Bats are responsible for pollinating trees, flowers, and cacti. They spread seeds so plants grow in new areas. Bats pollinate avocados, bananas, breadfruit, dates, figs, mangoes, and peaches. These remarkable mammals live together by the millions, and each can eat half its weight in insects a night, so they are great at controlling large numbers of pests that harm crops and spread disease. Certain microorganisms found in bat droppings may have important medical uses for humans. However, many populations of bats are in grave danger.

Bats do more than earn their keep. The insect-eating bats prevent diseases like West Nile virus and save crops from pests; fruit-eaters pollinate plants and disperse seeds while they’re at it. Bat droppings support bacteria useful to humans, including the production of antibiotics. The importance of bats to the environment cannot be exaggerated, and you can help them by creating roosts for them.

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