April 17 is International Bat Appreciation day. Why take a day to appreciate bats? Because bats are often baselessly feared and vilified. Yet armed with a little knowledge, I think everyone can come to appreciate them.
Bats are Earth’s only flying mammals and there are over 1,400 different species, with 40 species in the United States. They can live to be 100 years old. Many species can fly at over 60 miles per hour; the Brazilian free-tailed bat was clocked at over 100 mph! As you probably know, they use echolocation to find their food.
But here’s where the appreciation should really kick in. Bats eat pest insects. A lot of them. Some species will eat 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour throughout the night. For farmers, bats are especially important. According to Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation, “Insect-eating bats save farmers approximately $23 billion in annual agricultural losses in the United States alone.” In addition, bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers for 70% of tropical fruits. Their guano is also a rich fertilizer.
The fear of bats has been sensationalized using misinformation. But the truth is, if people leave bats alone, which they should, bats will leave people alone. Armed with the facts, we should not fear bats, but instead respect and appreciate them.