flying bat
Hooray for Halloween!
Bats 'n bugs
Befriending bats
Best brain bank
Grave robbers
Gorgeous graves
Bats emerge from a cave.
© David Tenenbaum.


bat wing

The "hand-wing" of a bat. Photo (detail) © Merlin Tuttle, reprinted courtesy of Bat Conservation International.


Lasiurus cinereus, the hoary bat, is found in Wisconsin.
© Merlin Tuttle, reprinted courtesy of Bat Conservation International.
Bats, brains, and burying grounds

Bats're up
POSTED 21 OCT 1999 Bats. We're not sure how they became so critical to Halloween. Maybe because they stood for the underworld in Puritan New England. Could have been due to those weirdo vampire bats of South America. bat cave Wouldn't they make a hard-core necklace for serious revelers on the night of the ghouls?

Whatever explains the association between bats and Halloween, we're glad it happened. Not because bats are ghoulish, but because they're cool. Think about it: They hang out upside down, sleep all day, and gobble bugs all night long. Because they, like whales and dolphins, use sonar -- reflected sound waves -- to locate their prey.

And bats are the only mammal that can really fly. Sure "flying squirrels" can glide, but bats don't need to climb trees to get started.

If you translate Chiroptera, the name of the scientific category for bats, it converts to "hand-wing." And if you look at a bat skeleton, that's what you'll see -- the bones of a hand spread out to carry the air-catching wing membrane. As you might expect, these hand-winged mammals also nurse their young. Fact is, if you're into mammals, you've gotta love bats, since the nearly 1,000 species of bats comprise almost one-quarter of all mammal species.

If you're not convinced, remember tequila, the elixir of the margarita. According to Bat Conservation International, the seed output of the agave plant, whose fermented flesh makes tequila, drops durn close to zero unless the plant is pollinated by bats. Tropical bats play a major role in pollinating flowers and spreading seeds.

bat hanging So if bats are cool and handy too (remember all those mosquitoes they eat every night!), why do they get a bad rap? Maybe it's all that guano carpeting the floor of bat caves. Maybe it's their strange, herky-jerky flight pattern, or the fact that, like other mammals, they can get rabies. Maybe the unsettling ability to act sometimes like a mammal, and sometimes like a bird...

Still, bats have attracted a coterie of admirers, who hang out, so to speak, at Bat Conservation International and the Organization for Bat Conservation. These folks want to reverse centuries of myths that still cause misguided people to exterminate bats and destroy their caves.

To spread the Bats 'r up philosophy, teach children that they're cool, not ghoul.

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©1999, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents.