Get Batty for Bats in National Parks
They get a bad rap. From literary blood-sucking night creatures that transform into vampires to uninvited attic guests, challenging to evict from the premises, bats have long been marginalized.
Though some may think they have faces only mothers could love (we’d ardently disagree), their importance is undeniable. To help educate the public about bats, the National Park Service offers many resources about these misunderstood species. One of the best ways to learn about bats is to head straight for the best living classrooms – our national parks – to see what makes them so unique.
Bats: They’re Just Like Us
Bats give live birth. They provide milk to their young. Their wings are comparable to our hands. In fact, bats are more biologically similar to primates than mice – despite their looks.
They range in size from that of a bumblebee to those with 6-foot wingspans, and snack on anything from scorpions to fruit.
Though rarely seen, there are approximately 1,000 species of bats, living on all continents besides Antarctica. This means that 1/5 of mammal species are in fact bats. Given the enormity of their group, it’s unsurprising how varied bats are. Fifty different bat species live within the park system alone.
Blinder than a Bat?
Bats are the only mammals that can fly, and most navigate the night skies and caves using echolocation. Their ultrasounds – sound waves that are above frequencies humans can hear – are emitted and bounce off surrounding objects, then return to the bat’s ears.
Bats have many different calls, and their calls continue to be studied. But don’t be fooled! Though bats rely on echolocation, they are not blind. Most bats actually have fair eyesight, even if colorblind.
But Why Are They Cool?
Bats aren’t just non-threatening in most cases; they’re downright helpful and of great importance to the ecosystem. Bats act as pollinators and help spread seeds. Avocadoes, cashews, peaches, tequila – all are products of pollination by bats.
Bats also have incredible appetites and are keen hunters. In one minute, a single big brown bat, found in parks like Wind Cave National Park, can eat between 5 and 20
blackbirds baked in a pie insects. This “natural pest control” saves farmers money that would otherwise be spent on pesticides to prevent crop damage. Meanwhile, fruit-eating bats also assist in the maintenance of plants and forests, dispersing seeds across the areas they live.
What Difficulties Do Bats Face?
Given the importance of insects in the diets of many bats, insecticides and poisons diminish insect populations that lead to a drastic decrease in the food supply for bats.
Destruction or the disturbance of caves have also led to habitat loss for many bats. In the past decade, many national parks have also noted White-nose syndrome as one of the greatest threats to the bat population in the United States.
White-nose syndrome has spread – and though harmless to humans, the disease is fatal to bats. This fungal disease was first reported in 2006, and has since spread through half the country, killing millions of bats.
Infected bats are identified as white fungus grows on their muzzles and wings. The disease causes the bats to quickly use up energy (twice as quickly as normal) and often wakes the bats during hibernation, resulting in their starvation or freezing to death.
White-nose syndrome is spread when bats interact with infected bats, but it can also be picked up from the surface of an infected cave or from humans who unknowingly carry the disease on their shoes or clothing. Parks ask that you ensure all gear and shoes are clean before and after entering any caves or mines.
In order to help combat the disease, the National Park Foundation was proud to provide a grant to fund the first year of a project focused on studying how bat populations and their prey respond to the fungus at Mammoth Cave National Park. The project also aimed to teach visitors more about the role of bats in the ecosystem and how it is affected by White-nose syndrome.
Where Can I Find Bats?
Bats live in many of the national parks! From Carlsbad Caverns National Park, host to 17 different types of bat, to El Malpais National Monument, where you can see nightly outflights of bats from Bat Cave, many parks are proud of their strong bat communities and work hard to ensure the continued safety of the populations. In fact, at National Park of American Samoa, bats are the only native mammals on the islands.
Visit park websites or tour in person to learn more about the different bats in each park and their histories in the area.
Bats are multi-faceted beings that aren’t fully understood by much of the public. By learning about these incredible mammals, more can be done to preserve their habitats and ensure the health of the entire ecosystem. #FindYourPark to continue learning about these complex and fascinating night flyers.