Science of Bats

Beneficial Bats Flying About:

With more than 1,200 species of bats, nearly a quarter of all mammals, it is important for people to learn that the bat's everyday actions are very valuable and extremely necessary to human economies and the health of whole ecosystems worldwide. As mentioned earlier, no matter where they live or what they eat, bats play several very important roles in our world. Bats can eat an impressive 200 tons of insects every night! BCI scientists say that one little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-size insects in one hour, and pregnant bats have been known to eat their entire body weight in insects each night. Scientists also have learned that without bats, crop pests would dramatically increase, forcing farmers to rely much more on dangerous pesticides. For example, bats who reside at Bracken Cave in San Antonio, Texas, can eat up to 200 tons of harmful insects nightly. One night's feeding of harmful crop pests prevents 50,000 or more eggs from being laid, which in turn saves local farmers close to $1 million dollars annually by reducing the need for pesticides. There are many more examples of how important bats are, and how they serve as nature's natural pesticide. For more information, please visit the Related Links Section and click on the link to the following article: "From Tequila to the 'Tree of Life,' Bats are Nature's Invaluable Allies," written by Dr. Merlin Tuttle, founder and president emeritus of BCI, and skilled bat photographer.

Without bats, the world would be lacking some very tasty foods and beverages that many people have come to enjoy. Several beneficial foods come from bat-dependent plants, and a lot of people are not aware that bats are key pollinators throughout the world. Bats carry pollen from one plant to another, which allows new plants to grow from the spreading of seeds. For example, bananas, peaches, mangos, dates, figs, cashews and much, much more come from trees and shrubs that rely heavily on bats. Dr. Tuttle's article provides interesting examples of how bats are beneficial in pollination.

Referred to as the African Tree of Life, the baobab tree in East Africa owes its title to necter-feeding bats that are more than just essential to its fruit production. Tuttle explained that the baobab has recently become known as the Vitamin Tree because it contains six times as much Vitamin C as oranges, twice as much as calcium and milk, and is also very rich in other vitamins and antioxidants. This tree soon may become a $1 billion a year crop, all the while depending on pollination from bats. Bats also are extremely important to the more than 100 species of cacti throughout the deserts of North and South America that depend on them for pollination. The many cactuses pollinated by bats not only provide food and shelter for other desert birds and mammals, but the agave cactus also happens to be the leading source of all tequila, which has become a popular drink of choice for many adults.

Draculin: Medical Advances Made by Vampire Bats

The bad rap vampire bats were given centuries ago, labeling them blood-sucking, rabies-filled monsters, may finally be lifted, as new research surfaces. Can neurologists vindicate the vampire bat? According to statistics, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. Vampire bats must feed on the blood of unsuspecting victims every 48 hours to avoid starving to death. Now, this may not seem like a likely comparison but research has revealed a remarkable connection.

When vampire bats bite their unsuspecting victims, saliva releases an enzyme called desmoteplase, which causes the victim's blood to flow more readily. This anticoagulant…dubbed draculin, since it allows bats more "blood for their bite"… has been determined to be much more potent and powerful than anything made by humans. Several years ago, scientists realized that draculin may help stroke victims by dissolving blood clots. Today, scientists are comparing draculin to other traditional anticoagulants. Currently, doctors have only a three-hour time window in which to treat stroke victims before blood clots do permanent damage to the brain or, even worse, kill the victim. With strokes being the number one cause of long-term disabilities, and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, scientists and doctors are trying to determine whether or not draculin can increase the time window, allowing doctors more time to treat post-stroke blood clots.

According to the Organization for Bat Conservation, another important aspect of bat biology that may prove to be extremely effective in the medical field, is the unique ability of bat hearts to function at extremely low body temperatures. While this phenomenon currently is being researched, understanding how bat hearts function in low temperatures still remains a mystery. Scientists' ultimate goal is to gain a better understanding of low-temperature surgical procedures. Bats also have contributed to medical research in other areas, such as birth control, artificial insemination, vaccine production, drug testing and navigational aids for the blind. To learn more about draculin and other medical advances, please visit the Related Links Section.