Chiroptera – Bats

Historically had a demonic reputation, and then came Covid-19…

An extraordinary group of mammals second only to rodents in terms of species diversity, comprising an impressive 20% of all mammalian species. Their variety is as broad as it is fascinating, with over 1,400 species flitting through our planet’s skies. Bats are incredibly diverse in species and ecological roles and physical characteristics, ranging from the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, the world’s smallest mammal, to the flying foxes, whose wingspan can stretch up to 1.7 meters (5.6 feet).

Indeed, bats are unparalleled in their ability to host a myriad of pathogens, including viruses that can lead to diseases such as rabies. Their role as natural reservoirs is a double-edged sword; it allows scientists to study virus evolution and transmission, but it also means that bats can be a source of zoonotic diseases that can jump to humans.

The anatomical marvel of bat wings is another area where these mammals stand out. Unlike bird wings, which are modified arms, bat wings are highly adapted hands with thin membranes stretched between elongated fingers. This unique structure allows them not just to glide but to achieve powered flight, with some species reaching impressive speeds of up to 97 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour). Echolocation, an advanced biological sonar system, facilitates their ability to navigate through the darkest caves and the night sky. Bats emit high-pitched sounds that bounce off objects and return to their finely tuned ears, allowing them to map their surroundings in complete darkness accurately.

Most bats are crucial to their ecosystems, playing roles as pollinators, seed dispersers, and pest controllers. Their nocturnal activities help pollinate plants and spread seeds vital for forest regeneration.

Sadly, more than 200 species of bats are currently facing the risk of extinction, classified as Endangered, Critically Endangered, or Vulnerable. This is largely due to human activities such as habitat destruction, pollution, and overhunting.