Without bats, the world would be overrun with insects, damaging crop production. Bats are also helpful pollinators who help pollinate fruits like bananas, peaches, cloves, and agaves (no agave, no tequila). Fruit-eating bats are also beneficial by dispersing seeds, sometimes accounting for 95% of the seeds replenishing recently cleared rainforests.
Bats Save the Agricultural Industry Billions
Imagine a world without your favorite cereal or no bagels with your morning coffee. If it weren’t for the bats flying around at night feasting on all kinds of insects, many farmers would have to spray their crops with insecticides. More insecticides mean higher input costs leading to more expensive products on the shelves at the store. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, insectivorous bats who eat insects save the U.S. economy around $1 billion annually in insecticides and crop damages annually. Across all agricultural sectors, bats result in savings of over $3 billion annually.
For example, Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brazilensis) who live in Bracken Cave, Texas, consume hundreds of tons of insects overnight, protecting crops against insect devastation and infestation.
Bats Help with Pollination
Almost 70% of the tropical fruits we love eating rely on bats to keep the pollination and growth cycle going. Although commercial bananas in the U.S. are seedless because they don’t need pollination, their ancestors in Southeast Asia depend on wild bats for pollination. These banana plants are an essential source of genetic material to develop new and disease-resistant varieties of bananas. The next time you reach for some bananas, mangoes, peaches, dates, or cashews at the store, spare a moment to thank a bat.
Mexico’s tequila industry also relies heavily on bats to help pollinatethe agave plants. However, commercial agave production means the plants are not allowed to flower, leading to a decline in bat populations and plant robustness. Because the agave plant is receptive to pollination at night, bees and birds cannot perform this essential task, but bats can and do! Without cross-pollination with other agave plants, their survival and produce robust descendants. Also, many cactus species in the desert depend on bats for their continued survival. While these plants feed the bats, the bats, in turn, pollinate them and ensure the next generation — a delicate symbiotic dance that benefits us and nature.
Bats Are Excellent Seed Carriers
Besides being pollinators, did you know that bats are the best reforesters? In areas where rainforests have been cleared, bats drop around 95% of the new or pioneer plants that will grow and start the new regrowth cycle — think of bats as nature’s first responders. Fruit-eating bats help to disperse one of the world’s most important medicinal species, the Neem tree. While bats help pollinate peaches, dates, and cashews, they also help spread the seeds, ensuring the fruit trees keep growing. They even help to spread guava seeds!
Cave Bat Guano Can Help Us Tackle Modern Problems
Bat droppings, known as guano, are used as a fertilizer in some parts of the world. The bat guano from Khao Chong Phran Cave in Thailand contributes to sales of over $132,000. Bat guano fertilizer is a rich, all-natural product that contains phosphorus (for plant growth and flowering) and nitrogen (for healthy green plants). What’s more, bat guano provides a slow release of nutrients to the plants and doesn’t easily wash away like artificial fertilizers. The guano also hosts dozens of microorganisms that can help us with the war on waste, improve detergents and medicines, and detoxify waste — but we need to protect the bats (and their droppings) to help researchers find these eco-friendly solutions.
Bats Help Inspire Technological Advances
We’ve all been taught that bats use echolocation — a type of sonar — to find their prey. Their use of sonar has helped us develop technologies such as sonar to detect enemy ships off our coasts, measure the depth of the ocean floor, and navigate our way in challenging terrains. Sonar technology, otherwise known as ultrasound, also help medical professionals in their work to produce images of affected body parts or check on a baby’s development in the womb. Base jumpers can also thank bats for inspiration; their little aerodynamic bodies and paper-thin wings are some of the cues we’ve adapted for our purposes. Scientists who study vampire bats have been able to develop anti-blood-clotting medicine to help stroke victims prevent further blood clots and strokes.
How You Can Help Protect Bats
Below are some tips to help keep yourself and the bats safe.
- Leave them alone. Bats rarely, if ever, attack humans. However, if you have been bitten or scratched by a bat, you must contact a healthcare provider.
- Be aware that some bats are also active during the day, so don’t be frightened when you see them doing their bat business.
- Turn off unnecessary outside lighting because light pollution can deter bats from entering an area or hurt their sensitive night vision-adapted eyes (all bats can see and are not blind).
- Install a bat house on your property. Check this guide for more information.
- Avoid visiting caves, especially in winter, because it may disturb the bats — they’ll become active and flee. If their favorite plant or insect is unavailable in winter or their reserves are depleted, they will starve to death. Your shoes can also carry a deadly fungus called white-nose syndrome into the cave, and the fungus can decimate a population once it gets a foothold in the cave.
Unfortunately, bats are one of the most misunderstood animals in nature due to their association with vampire folklore. We hope to help you understand bats better and appreciate how important animals are in our ecosystem.