Blog post written by PCMN Josh Skattum
Happy Bat Week to all current and future bat aficionados! October 24th through October 31st was International Bat Week! At this time of the year we commonly are preparing for the spooky festivities of Halloween. Often this holiday can be hallmarked by our beloved bats! I must forewarn you all, this is not a scary spooky blog post. In fact I am here to adore you with cute bat photos and inspirational insights about these incredible flying wonders! International bat week is a time to raise awareness about these animals. Plus, Tucson is such a wonderful place for us to do that!
Let’s first start with how incredibly diverse these animals are! There are roughly 6,500 different species of mammals found on our little planet. Within that about 1,400 species are bats making up over 20% of mammalia. They can be found on almost every continent other than Antarctica. These animals have adapted the locomotion of flight and are the only known mammals that can do so. Now you might ask, what about the flying squirrel? Well guess what, they glide, can’t fly. And then you might ask, well I heard about flying foxes once. Well guess what, they’re a glorified Australian bat that just look really cute like a fox. These animals found their niche and it only gets better from here!
I hope after reading this you tell yourself, Arizona is blessed with bats, because it’s true! I’m a relocated Midwesterner and there we could only observe 8 different species. Here in Arizona, we have nearly 30 different kinds! These animals are intrinsic to our Sonoran Desert Ecology as well as our local Tucson festivities. Let’s swoop into why!
Bats have adapted all sorts of feeding habits and they’re so important. We’ll first debunk the classic cliche that they’ll suck your blood. Only vampire bats, hairy-legged vampire bats, and white-winged vampire bats consume blood and are endemic to the rainforests of America. So unless you live in Mexico, Chile, and Argentina, you should only be thankful for these animals. Many bat species consume insects including mosquitos! If we’re thankful for a great monsoon season, then we should thank the bats for helping us keep those blood suckers at bay. (Mosquitos of course).
The lesser long-nosed bat is known as a fruigivore! They consume fruit and nectar from several of our columnar cacti and agaves. Due to their diet selection they serve as pollinators for these plants! Their symbiotic relationship is what allows us to consume and sometimes enjoy tequila! One of my favorite festivals here in Tucson is the Agave Festival, as we also celebrate the lesser long-nosed bat while enjoying our historic downtown. There are many other wonderful ways to celebrate bats here in Pima County!
Here we have batapalooza at Agua Caliente Park. At batapalooza fun games and activities about bats were displayed for friends and families. As the sun sets, mist nets and acoustic software were used to identify these animals. Did you know that researchers can make an ID based off of the acoustic wave lengths that are emitted during echolocation? It’s a great way to identify their presence or absence without an invasive means. There is also a device called “echo meter touch”, which you can plug into your phone / tablet and be used to identify and learn about bats flying overhead. Another option for researching migratory patterns of specific individuals is by what we call “mist netting”. These animals fly into the nets, are carefully taken out, and then the researcher may ID tag the animal while taking notes. Did you know that Mexican free-tailed bats can live up to 18 years. We know this because of this kind of research. Imagine ID’ing the same bat for 18 years! Cool fact! Some bat species look so similar that scientists will look at the shape of the tragus as a distinguishing characteristic while using a dichotomous key.
These animals will roost in unique structures! The western yellow bat enjoys palm trees, canyon bats will roost in crevices and caves within canyons, and Mexican free-tailed bats can be observed roosting within infrastructure such as underneath bridges! Historically Pima County Parks and Recreation has had multiple events were you can watch plumes emerging from underneath bridges along the river walk. There’s even a cute little bat sculpture riding a bicycle! Only females of the Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to Arizona to create what’s called a nursery roost. They typically only have one pup and will invest care into the individual until they’re ready to leave. Females are able to identify their young using echolocation despite being surrounded by possibly 20,000 other individuals.
The desert museum is also a great place to learn about these animals! During the summer and leading into fall, bat’s are typically out and about anywhere you go at night. However, at the Desert Museum, there are many educational displays to learn about these animals. They also will have fun summer night programs where you are able to celebrate and learn about Sonoran Desert, all while experiencing the desert at dark!
Not only can you enjoy experiences where you can learn about these animals, you can help save them by volunteering with the flowers and bats project. This is a community science project where you hike predetermined routes and identify specific blooming plants. Due to climate change, habitat destruction, wild fires in our non-fire adapted ecosystem, and invasive species; the Sonoran Desert could be changing! Without these blooming plants, lesser-long nosed bats could run out of necessary food resources that they depend on for their migration back to Mexico. We then would lose the animal that pollinates our agave, the source for tequila for our margaritas! Okay I lied, so maybe we do have a scary spooky plot here.
We all know the stories that people share giving bats a bad rap. Though they’re kind of the underdogs of the mammalian world and we need them to pull through! Otherwise instead of saying to yourselves, “Bats give me the “heebie jeebies”. You might find yourself saying; “oh my gosh, I am covered in mosquitoes, oh my gosh, help me”. Or “I really miss the blooms of these beautiful plants” Or “why is there a bat riding a bicycle statue?” How about? “Remember when we could enjoy a crisp margarita on a hot afternoon?”
Plus, who wouldn’t miss these cute little faces?