There are about 5000 species of mammals in the world, and over 1200 of them are bats—more than any other type of mammal except rodents. There are fruit-eating bats, bug-eating bats, nectar-sipping bats, fishing bats and, of course, blood-lapping bats (the famous vampire bats, of course). There are bats with wingspans of over six feet, and bats that can sit comfortably in a teaspoon.
Their ability to fly has made them the most widespread mammals on earth—well, aside from humans. Bats are the only land mammals native to remote islands like Hawaii and New Zealand.
Along with diversity comes biological importance. Of course, all species of life are important, but bats live in so many environments and specialize in so many ways that they've become critical to the survival of other organisms. Bats are important pollinators of many plants, they control insect populations, disperse a variety of seeds, and deliver nitrogen (in the form of, yes, bat poop, also called guano) to places that would otherwise have little of this important nutrient.
They're also incredibly cute, in a hideous sort of way.
But perhaps the coolest thing about bats is their ability to "see" with sound. They're like flying sonic flashlights, emitting ultra high frequencies of sound and listening as the sounds reflect off objects to create a detailed sonic image. Bats' echolocation ability is so finely tuned that they can home in on tiny, fast-moving insects.
But despite their importance, cuteness and overall coolness, many people are fearful of bats. They have a reputation for carrying rabies, even though they're no more likely to be infected than many other wild animals. There are stories about bats flying into people's hair, even though there is almost no place a bat would be less likely to fly.
Many bats are endangered, because their habitats are being destroyed, and, in North America, a serious fungal infection called White Nose Syndrome has spread through caves in 23 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces where bats roost.
Inventories, like the one featured in this BioBlitz 2014 video, Bioblitz 2014 Night Time Bat Walk - YouTube, give scientists the information they need to determine the health of bat populations and figure out strategies to protect them.
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