Bats; friend or foe?, Fruit BatScience 

Bats: Foe or Friend?

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Bats are some of the most unique animals on the planet, one of the only mammals capable of flight with capabilities that differentiate it from the rest of the animal kingdom, they are one of nature’s most intriguing species. With its 1,240 different species making up 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide, bats are the second largest order or mammals on Earth, second only to rodents. With a distribution pattern that sees them represented all over the world, the species boasts a diversity seen only in few families.

Chiroptera, order of Bat types based on head shape
Chiroptera, order of Bat Types based on head shape. Various species illustration. See number order-left.; source wikipedia.

1-2: Brown Long-eared Bat
3: Lesser Long-eared Bat
4: Lesser False Vampire Bat
5: Big-eared Woolly Bat
6-7: Tomes’s Sword-nosed Bat
8: Mexican Funnel-eared Bat
9: Antillean Ghost-faced Bat
10: Flower-faced Bat
11: Greater Spear-nosed Bat
12: Thumbless Bat
13: Greater Horseshoe Bat
14: Wrinkle-faced Bat
15: Spectral Bat

Overall, there are two major bat suborders in which the species are split into. There are the large fruit bats, which can weigh up to 1.6 kg (4 lbs) and boast a wingspan of 1.7 m (5-foot-7), and the highly specialized smaller bats who use echolocation, which can be as small as 29 mm (1.1 in) with a wingspan of 15 cm (15 in) and weigh 2 g (0.07 oz). For the most part, bats are either insectivores or frugivores, although a couple specialist species have been known to feed on fish or animal blood.

Often perceived as a bad omen is some cultures and as a source of food in others, bats have a different relationship with humans throughout history. That being said, bats do pose somewhat of a threat to humans due to the amount of diseases and pathogens they may carry. Bat-borne infections are relatively common, although they tend to affect animals more so than humans. Apart from mites and lice, in the past they have been responsible for outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and rabies, and have been known to carry histoplasmosis, Hendra and even Ebola.

That being said, not all bats are dangerous, and several species are actually under pressure due to rapid urbanization and increased pollution. As a result of this and their strong ecological impact, they are protected in several countries, like the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Mexico.

But, you may be wondering what ecological role a bat may have, and the answer is fairly innocent: they help control insect populations. It is estimated that a large bat colony can eat up to 10,000 kgs (30,000 lbs) of insects in a single night. Additionally, in certain places, these bats can serve as a boost to local tourism, although they can be considered a pest in several major cities due to their screeching in daylight hours.

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