Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Interview Wednesday - The Truth About BATS

I'm excited about this interview for two reasons:

1) I LOVE bats! They're a vital part of our eco-system.

2) Cami was one of the teens in my very first Humane Teen Club. She just graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in Wildlife Ecology and Management. (Where did the time go?!)

On to expanding our knowledge about these very important critters!

1) When you hear the word BAT, most people think one of three things: Halloween, vampires, or rabies. What do you think?

·         When I hear bat I think firstly, cute fuzzy small animal that is amazing evolutionarily and morphologically as the only mammal that has developed true flight. Next I think about them eating (hopefully all) mosquitos. And finally, and probably most importantly, I think about the pillar they are in the ecosystem as insect controllers, being of only a select few animals that are nocturnal insectivores. They impact agricultural lands, forested lands, coastal regions, and even urbanized areas in ways that most people don’t know due to the stigma attached to them of being vampires or rabid. But in actuality the majority of bats eat insects, nectar, or fruit. Only three species are actually considered “vampire” bats, all of which occur in Central and South America. They impact such diverse habitats because insects are everywhere and without them a lot of the food we enjoy that are grown in crops would be difficult to produce. These can include wheat fields (the Symbol of Bacardi rum is a bat because bats helped increase the productivity of his crops which lead to a higher production of alcohol for the landowner), fruits, and vegetable crops. This can be both at a large scale ranch or agricultural development and at a small scale community or home garden.

2) How long have you been studying/working with bats?

·         It has been almost two years exactly since I held my first bat. The first year I focused on what kind of roosts they were selecting in a country club in Flagstaff. The second year I focused in on the genetics of that population.

3) What are some of the misconceptions you had that were smashed once you got to know bats?

·         Honestly, going in to this job I had no idea what to expect. I definitely did not think that bats were as cute as I do now having worked closely with them. I also had the misconception that they all looked somewhat similar, but that was smashed on my first few times of handling them. Each species has their own little quirks.

4) Tell us a few FUN facts about these guys!

·         So the Bacardi fact up above is pretty neat! I promote Bacardi now because of that story. Another neat thing is that each genera and sometimes species has a different demeanor; once in a while you may come across individuals that have distinctly different personalities. There are a few species we all love to handle since they are calm and don’t fight and bite so much, these include the Arizona myotis (Myotis occultus; Arizona’s version of the little brown bat; they are very closely related), Mexican free tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), and the big free tail bat (Nyctinomops macrotis). Others that can be difficult to handle are the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus), the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), and the pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus).

·         Another neat thing is that certain species like the big brown bat, have females who roost in large maternity colonies (can be a few hundred) and communally raise their young. Most bats are only able to have a single pup per breeding season, so having other females who will, sometimes, altruistically help raise another females pup. The fascinating thing about this is that based on biology and the “furthering your own genes” idea, these females should be or were thought to be selecting their roosts and females to help based on kinship (so the female you are helping is your sister, aunt, niece, etc). But with the genetic study we did of these roosts we found that there was no significant genetic structure or relatedness, which suggests that they are not roosting with females that they are related to. This makes what they are doing an altruistic behavior by just helping to help.

5) Why are bats such an important part of our environment?

·         Many species are insect controllers. They eat everything from beetles to moths to mosquitos to scorpions (the pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) does this), so they control these populations and further crop success.  Other bats a nectivorous, so like hummingbird they have exceptionally long tongues that they use to feed on nectar from plant to plant. So like hummingbirds and bees they act as pollinators.

6) What is the biggest threat to bats right now?

·         The main two are fairly obvious I feel. 1) White-nose syndrome and 2) Urbanization which leads to habitat fragmentation.

·         With white-nose syndrome it’s a difficult issue to find a “fix” or solution to. This is mostly due to the fact that it’s a fungus that does best in wet cold climates; thus why caves are so heavily impacted.

·         Urbanization is the same battle with every species where fragmentation of habitat and overall habitat loss or conversion creates an ecosystem that is impossible for some animals. For bats, certain species are what we call generalists where they will do fairly well in just about any environment from urbanized to forested. Others, however, have a different story where they are specialists and utilize a specific habitat or niche and without that they can have population declines.

7) Do they only come out at night? Or is it more a dusk to dawn in the waning lights life?

·         Most bats are indeed nocturnal and forage at night time. They will usually use day roosts during daytime to sleep and rest before they come out at dusk. They will exit their roosts and then fly around a forage for a while and then use night roosts as places to take a quick power nap before continuing to forage. Of course this is not applicable to every species but in general that is their pattern.

8) Anything else you think we should know or keep in mind about these amazing creatures?

·         Remember that if you like wheat, fruit, and/or vegetables, then you like bats!
Thank you for your time and for sharing the wonder of bats with us, Cami!

What about you, readers? Did you learn something new about bats? Do you like them, love them, or are you scared of them?