Missouri

The Truth About Bats

Amazing Bats
Amazing bats like to eat
Thousands of bugs for a tasty treat.
Flying through the moonlit air;
Traveling here and traveling there.
Hibernating when the weather is cold,
Gathered with hundreds of friends,
We're told.
Many bats are endangered, it's sad to say
There are fewer and fewer bats every day.
Be kind to bats, that's the thing to do,
Tell your friends and your family too!
-Anonymous-

The Truth About Bats

Myths, folklore, legends and "old wives tales" about bats have been dated as far back to their first noted existence many, many centuries ago. Though the exact, eerie origin of the association of bats with the legend of human vampires is uncertain, it is known that belief in vampires was born many centuries ago in Eastern Europe and describes the monsters as corpses that somehow came back to life. The association of bats and vampires as one in the same in western civilization can be traced back to the year Cortez and his conquistadores landed in the Americas. At that time, bats in the area began to bite and feast heavily on their horses' blood. It was then that the association of vampires and bats as one in the same was born. William Shakespeare and other writers further contributed to this notion, also helping to bestow fear of bats on people by associating the flying mammals with graveyards, ghosts and goblins.

Contrary to popular belief, many cultures have thought, and continue to think, differently about bats and their existence. Ancient Egyptians believed bats could prevent or cure poor eyesight, toothache, fever and baldness. They also believed that a bat hung over a doorway of a home was thought to prevent the entry of demons that carried those "diseases." Also, bat gods were very important to many pre-Columbian civilizations in Central America, and worshipped in parts of Africa as well as in many parts of the Caribbean. Even today the Chinese believe that bats are a symbol of happiness, good fortune, health, wealth, serenity, virtue and long life. Chinese mothers sometimes sew small jade buttons in the shape of a bat on the caps of their babies, a custom believed to ensure long life. In Scotland, real estate values increase if a colony of bats is found in a home or a castle and Native Americans have always considered the bat a protector.

Today, some of the most popular movies and television programs still associate bats with vampires, ghosts, goblins and other undead, but the truth of the matter is that bats are amazing creatures that play very important roles in our ecosystem. After the sun sets, these furry mammals are extremely hard at work around the world fulfilling tasks that are vital not only to healthy ecosystems, but to humans as well. And bats use unique, intricate communication systems to successfully do it all. Bats are considered to be just as smart, if not smarter, than primates, and communicate strikingly similar to the way humans communicate. Join us now in learning how bats use complex sounds to greet, direct, warn and play with one another. What are we discovering about bat communication and how does it affect human lives?

Hand-Wings:

Currently, there are more than 1,200 different known species of bats worldwide. Bats belong to the mammalian order Chiroptera, meaning hand-wing and comprise nearly a quarter of all mammal species in the world. Bats range from the world's smallest mammal (the tiny bumble bee bat, weighing less than a penny), to giant flying foxes with six-foot wingspans. About 200 species of bats can be grouped together as Megachiroptera, otherwise known as megabats. Megabats, also referred to as flying foxes, fruit bats and Old World fruit bats, live in tropical parts of Africa, Asia and Australia. The remaining bats, called Microchiroptera, can be found on every continent except Antarctica and have lived in almost every habitat for many, many centuries. Bats have made islands, deserts, woodlands, tropical rain forests, towns, suburbs, buildings and even peoples' homes their own. North America is home to 47 species of bats.

Again, contrary to the popular belief that all bats drink blood to survive, most bats eat fish, mice, frogs and other vertebrates, while almost a third of the world's bats feed on fruit and nectar, and more than two thirds of bats hunt insects. Of the more than 1,200 species of bats, only three species, all of which are found in Latin America, are vampires. Over time, bats, no matter what they eat, have proven to be essential to the survival of the world today.

The Red Bat

The image on the U-Haul truck, representing the state of Missouri, has been created to help people learn about the complex communication systems used by bats, which reveal their dependence on echolocation and features the red bat, (Lasiurus borealis). While all microbats echolocate, the red bat's reputation is that of the cutest, friendliest-looking bat, which is why its species is a good fit in representing the Missouri SuperGraphic, and also because some red bats call the trees in and around Onondaga Cave State Park in Leesburg, Missouri, home.

Red bats are common throughout North and South America, and do not form colonies except during mating season and migration. Most of the time they roost, a place of temporary rest or sleep, hidden in the leaves of various trees. Red bats have long, soft fur that can range in color from bright orange to yellowish brown, and they have a wingspan that measures around 13''. The red bat is one of the fastest-flying bats, known for reaching speeds of more than 40 miles per hour. This is unique, since scientists report that most bats only fly between five and eight miles per hour. Another interesting fact about red bats is that they are often mistaken for dead leaves, because they wrap themselves in their wings while hanging from only one foot. Red bats do this in order to protect themselves from hawks, blue jays and other predators.