An Exploration of the Amazing World of the Bat
Bats are unique among mammals in their mastery of true flight, a fundamental evolutionary step which paved the way for an entire new and large unoccupied part of the environment at least 55 million years ago.
The opportunities presented by this vacant niche-nocturnal life, flight, insects and tropical fruits and flowers allowed bats to undergo a marked degree of adaptive radiation, evolving into an astonishing diversity in a relatively short period of time.
Bats a currently classified according to a single order, Chiroptera and are divided into sub-orders, Megachiroptera, more commonly referred to as megabats which are mainly fruit eaters. The other suborder is Microchiroptera, commonly referred to as microbats, which eat a variety of foods.
Bats range in size from the smallest mammals to the 1 kg flying fox. They also come in a wide range of shapes and colours. The evolution of wings and flight has allowed bats to exploit roost environments and food resources which are virtually unavailable to most other vertebrates.
Bats have been quite successful in diversifying and colonizing many different environments. To thrive in their varied habitats, bats display a wide range of specialized behaviour, including echolocation, diverse diet and hibernation.
The evolution of echolocation was undoubtedly a principle determinant leading to the divergence of roosting and feeding habits. Largely because of their ability to echolocate, the Microchiroptera have successfully exploited a variety of internal shelters (e.g., caves, rock crevices, tree cavities, and man made structures). The Megachiroptera have successfully adapted to a variety of external roosts, but they have been virtually excluded from most internal shelters because of their inability to echolocate.
Bats are also warm-blooded animals, but unlike most other warm-blooded animals, they maintain their body temperature only when active. During the day, while resting in their roosts, bats let their body temperature drop to the temperature of their surroundings.
Interestingly enough, bats are one of most crucial members in the tropical ecosystem. The frugivorous bats are essential pollinators of many tropical trees and agents of seed dispersal for the regeneration of forests (both of which help food plants reproduce and spread). This contributes to the health of the forest environment. Many trees and shrubs that they visit are commercially important as a food resource, or for other purposes. The extent to which bats are involved in these natural processes is not fully appreciated and is just now being investigated by tropical biologists.
Meanwhile, insectivorous bats are much involved in maintaining the balance of insect populations. Insectivorous bats utilize a wide variety of arthropod prey items. The choice of prey seems not to be random, and there is considerable evidence to suggest a fair amount of prey selection among species or groups of species.
In reality, bats are most advantageous to mankind. The accumulation of guano in bat caves has been exploited as a source of organic fertilizer for many years, especially where deposits occur. The use of guano, while still used in some local areas, has generally declined in the last twenty years due to the emergence of cheaper synthetic fertilizers. In addition, much of the resource has been depleted, but guano continues to be a valuable source of fertilizer in some undeveloped countries.
Bats have long been associated with medicine, formerly as the mystical ingredient of supposed remedies and poultice, for a variety of ailments. Gipsy doctors used the blood of bats in ‘cures’ for various human ailments.
Bat blood was also used by the ancient Egyptians to treat diseases of the eyes. Blood or the brain of a bat, mixed with the gall of goat’s milk was also regarded as an excellent depilatory agent. In contrast to those hair removal remedies, bat’s wings have also been used to restore or prevent the loss of hair.
In India, the dried and crushed wings are sometimes still used in the preparation of a hair wash along with coconut oil and other ingredients.
Bat guano has been used in some rather curious ways. Some Arab groups mix bat guano in vinegar to be taken internally for the cure of tumours. This same mixture could also be applied externally.
The unique characteristics and benefits of bats are not found in other mammals on earth. The differences between them when compared to others make bats are one of the most amazing species on our planet. Therefore, we should be grateful for the creation of this species which is offers more advantages not only for mankind, but only for the balance of our ecosystem.