Nighttime's Tiny Fighter Jets.....Bats!

August 07, 2014 Posted by: SC - Park Ranger (Yosemite Valley)
As the sun lowers in the sky, shadows stretch out across Yosemite and the bright blue overhead is highlighted by streaks of orange and pink. Finally, the temperature begins to dip. As half of the world gets ready for bed, the other half of our living creatures begin to wake up. Winged predators take to flight. Bats! Yosemite National Park is home to 17 species of bat. Before you cancel your next trip here, keep in mind that less than ½ of 1% of bats are carriers of rabies. All those bats flying around help keep the mosquito and other insect populations at bay. In fact bats in the United States are worth about $3.7 billion to the agricultural industry. Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), for example, can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes or similar sized insects in an hour. Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) which weigh 0.4–0.8oz (11.3-22.67g) can consume their body weight in insects each night. Through the night, that adds up to a whole lot of insects.   
Find a quiet spot to sit any warm evening in Yosemite by a river or open meadow and you can see the acrobatics of bats. In fact scientists were so fascinated by these tiny fighter jets, they began studying how they were able to fly so adeptly, even in the dark. While they discovered that most bats can see just about as well as us humans, many have the added advantage of echolocation. From studying the echolocation used by bats scientists got the idea for sonar. The bat emits a noise which bounces off of the objects around it and back to the ear of the bat, allowing it to create a sound picture. Echolocation works so well that bats are able to detect objects as fine as a human hair. This is good news! Unless your hair is full of moths, you never have to worry about a bat flying into and becoming tangled in your hair. While most bats echolocate at a frequency higher than humans can hear, you may be lucky enough to hear the clicking of a Spotted bat (Euderma maculatum) or the high pitched chatter of a Western mastiff bat (Eumops perotis) while they dive about catching dinner.
Spotted bat - black body with three white spotsSpotted bat - black body with three white spots
While it is easy to see the differences between us and bats, they may be more similar to us than previously thought. Their order, Chiroptera, literally means “hand-wing.” Much like us, bats have four fingers as well as a thumb, their fingers just happen to be connected by skin making them the only mammal that is able to fly. They are social creatures. Mother bats most often birth one pup at a time. The mothers leave their young together in a nursery colony. Upon returning each night, they are able to identify their own offspring, at times among over a million of other young. Bats are able to recognize individuals throughout their lives and, much as we do, maintain different levels of friendships with other bats.
Next time the light starts to dim, wherever you might find yourself, look to the sky. You don’t have to be in Yosemite to see bats. They live everywhere in the world except the Arctic and Antarctic. Even in urban areas bats can be found swooping about tirelessly reducing the insect population each night. Maybe you’ll be so dazzled by their flying tactics, thankful for their insect catching, and reminded of our similarities, you’ll forget to scream and find a new appreciation for these furry little fliers.

Nature Scene, SC

Last updated: August 11, 2014

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