Bats are getting more bad reputation after the outbreak of COVID-19 on top of ancient prejudice, but they are actually useful for humans and nature. And they can be quite cute.
If you are interested in wildlife and incredible stories about it, join the string of online lectures organized by the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia. For more information on events follow its YouTube channel or Facebook page.
There is still no scientific evidence of the same coronavirus in bats and people and no reliable traces of a transfer, according to Ivana Budinski, PhD and Research Assistant at the Institute for Biological Research Siniša Stanković and an expert in the species. Bats and pangolins have come to the spotlight recently with theories they are the source of the pathogen that caused the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed tens of thousands of lives. During an online lecture organized by the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia, Budinski stressed that bats have countless useful traits and warned that the only flying mammal has an essential role in nature.
The online lecture about bats is the first in a series organized by the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia. Followers have the opportunity to hear general and less known facts about the Balkan lynx, snakes, illegal trade in animals, urban ecology and insects.
“This is our contribution in these difficult moments. We wish to show solidarity and make the source of the problem clearer. Great fear and panic won’t help anyone. We want to offer quality educational content to citizens of Serbia and the region who are in quarantine so that they can use the time that they have to expand their knowledge,” said the organization’s Executive Director Milan Ružić.
Eating mosquitos at stunning rates
Bats are natural insecticides, Ivana Budinski asserted, explaining they feed on insects – above all, they are useful for keeping in check the number of mosquitos, which have actually killed more humans by far. Namely, mosquitos are known to spread diseases like the Zika and the West Nile fever.
Just like people and mosquitos, bats live almost everywhere. They only can’t be found in the planet’s far north and Antarctica as well as at extreme altitudes.
A grown Kuhl’s pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii), a bat of just six grams that can be found in our region, apparently eats as much as 3,000 mosquitoes per night. It means just one bat saves people a measurable amount of sleep, reduces health risk and lowers insect control costs.
The colony of an estimated 20 million bats in the Bracken cave in Texas are said to eat a whopping one hundred tons of insects per night. By one calculation, the species saves USD 23 billion in agriculture per year in the United States and USD 780 million in cocoa plantations in Indonesia alone.
Moreover, bats spread seeds and renew plants and forests. It is important in the context of deforestation and the expansion of arable land. People tend to introduce monocultures, which means they cultivate only one crop in a large area and it is sometimes a foreign and harmful plant. Bats can help reverse the process together with birds and other animals.
The flittermouse, as it used to be called, is the pollinator of a huge number of plants. Some of them have adapted over the eons so that only a specific bat can pollinate them. Bats are vital for varieties of banana, fig, agave, avocado, mango and durian.
There are more than 1,400 species in the order Chiroptera, as it is officially called. Contrary to widely held prejudices, bats aren’t related to mice and they aren’t blind at all. They don’t have a purpose in the preparation of magic potions, as some might believe.
Time to overcome bad reputation
Additionally, Budinski noted, only three species drink blood, two of them prey on birds, and only one attacks mammals, yet causing all 19 families a bad reputation and the inspiration to artists on vampires. Most bats eat fruit, hunt fish or invertebrates, for instance caterpillars or scorpions.
The expert added there are 31 species of bats in Serbia, divided into four families. Species differ in size, colour, the shape of ears and nose, and some even have crests.
Needless to say, bats won’t get entangled in your hair. Most of them use echolocation and they are very precise in orientation. They emit ultrasound through the nose or mouth and when the signal returns, the biological sonar detects the smallest insect and all possible barriers and objects.
People should leave bats alone
Turning back to the current pandemic, Ivana Budinski acknowledged bats are hosts or reservoirs of viruses. She explained that spill-overs, occasions where pathogens “jump” form one species to another, can result in deadly diseases among humans – like Ebola, but this is neither a certain nor a simple automatic process.
It is interesting, though, that bats themselves seem to keep their temperature relatively high, equivalent to constant mild inflammation, and that they don’t suffer from the viruses. The distinction motivated research into possible ways to deal with autoimmune diseases in people.
The viruses can mutate into pathogen forms and invade other species, such as gorillas and chimpanzees. The capture and illegal trade in wild animals, which are also eaten, may disturb the balance and increase the odds of such a transfer.
This is why it is of utmost importance that humans leave the wild animals in peace and do not disturb nature’s well-functioning balance. Even the less attractive specimen and those of bad reputation, like bats, have immense positive impact on nature’s functions and on human well-being.
Dr. Budinski closes her lecture with advises on what to do in case of noticing a bat in your surroundings, especially a hurt animal.
Further available video lectures are:
- Balkan lynx – Big cat with small chances – by Dimče Melovski, master of biology
- Imperial eagle – The story of the nest guardians – by Milica Mišković, master of biology
About the host
The Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS) is an active and committed organization that carefully maintains a network of active members throughout Serbia who work on bird and nature protection and increase of knowledge about birds and nature in Serbia at local, regional and national levels.
BPSSS is a member of BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organisations (NGOs) that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.