International Bat Night 2018

On paths and meadows the heat of the day remains, although it is already pitch-dark. Thousands upon thousands of stars are only seen out here, far away from the street lighting of the city. Now in August, it is the best time to watch shooting stars.

Our view focuses up into the sky despite developing a stiff neck, as we do not want to miss the chance of a shooting star. Suddenly a dark dot again and again blocks our view in a jagged flight, as fast as every shooting star. Bats are even more active at this time of the year than the Perseids, the visible effects of the meteor stream in August.

Unlike on shooting stars one has a perfect view of bats also in cities if there are enough older houses close by with accessible attics. As soon as it dawns they race through the air.

Fluttering mouse
Together with flying foxes the bats are the only mammal species that actively fly. And they have been there nearly forever: For 50 million years bats have swished through the darkness on earth. Mankind has only been around for 300,000 years. In several Roman and Germanic languages bats are called fluttering or bare mice, because their heads remind us of a mouse.

Fluttering describes the speed of the animals very well, who are on their way with 800 heartbeats per minute.

Also internationally, bats are well-positioned, 1.200 different species globally existing on all continents except Antarctica. Until men came they often had been the only mammals on many islands like New Zealand.

From mouse-eared to vampires
Mouse-eared bats are the class of bats, which globally occurs everywhere and in the biggest variety of species. Nevertheless, bats prefer a warm climate, typically tropical climate zones, where they appear very species-rich. The more to the North from the equator one comes the less bats exist.

But also in Central Europe 25 different bat species and 48 species in US whip through the nights. Most species look rather clumsy on the ground, but vampire bats and New Zealand short-tailed bats move very fast on foot. Some species even swim with their flying membrane and start directly from water into a flight. Bats vary from very small to relatively big. Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, also often described as bumblebee bat, measures only three centimeters from head to trunk and weighs only two grams. Whereas the biggest species, the ghost bat from Australia, is quite impressive with its 14 centimeters of length, a span of 60 centimeters and a weight of 200 grams.

Nearly all species share a fragile skeleton and low weight for optimal flying conditions, their flying membrane from their wrist to their ankle and their dense, silky fur.

Bats orient their position with their ultrasonic echo like no other species. They avoid smallest obstacles in the dark just by assigning the time that the echo of their ultrasonic sounds need to reflect with objects in the surrounding area. In this way they even detect the smallest insects flying past. Whereby there are not only insectivores. Some species specialize on fruits, some on leaves and others on meat. There exist even tropical bats that collect nectar and pollen from open flowers in the night like hummingbirds.

How Batman got his name
Most well-known are those bat species that specialize in blood. They surprise warmbloods in the night, bite little wounds into their bodies with their incisors and lick the blood. At the same time many bats possess strong and long canines, which they only use for insects and blossom food. But alone those special characteristics feed human fantasy.

That is how the harmless bat became a role model for numerous vampire stories and in 1939 saw the creation of the comic figure Batman.

In real life the comic figure Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, who transforms into a bat man with cape and pointed ears to free Gotham City from all crimes. Bruce Wayne makes up the costume as he strongly believes that the shape of a bat already scares crooks. In deed in many cultures bats were regarded as creatures that bring doom.

Bats stand for death. Even today bats are strongly connected to vampire fantasies, beings that mean danger for the night. In China however bats symbolize luck. They are often on textiles or as talisman to find as they mean richness, health and a long life.

International Bat Night
For their small body size bats reach an advanced age. Compared to mice they get ten times as old. They owe this fact to the ecological niche they occupy. In the night not many enemies remain for them and of those they may just fly away from. Even in reproduction bats are very tricky to remain their survival.

Unlike for other mammals their sperms outlive for months. In areas with real winter they couple in summer or early fall, but the ovum of the female just gets fertilized in spring after their hibernation.

The only real danger for bats is human beings. In many societies of primitive people bats were used as medicine or were processed into protective amulets. In our latitudes bats are seldom hunted, but we destroy their habitat.

Many species are regarded as critically endangered on the Red List of IUCN, four bat species are already extinct. Caves and tunnels are often protected now as their wintering grounds, but as cultural successors following people bats are strongly affected by the way how old buildings are restructured. Many of their berths they find sealed, so nature conservationists help out with bat boxes.

It is essential however to take into account the needs of bats when building or restructuring and to create more habitats for insects as bats cannot survive without them. The International Bat Night emphasizes the dangers for the night aviators. They awake fascination for those interesting animals with special activities and events.

With bat detectors they make the ultrasonic sounds audible and distinguishable. Bats have populated the earth for millions of years more than we have and they have the right to survive our existence. Discover more about these animals, pack your binoculars with high light transmission for the darkness and react fast in order not to miss the beauties of the night!

Michaela Sulz

Michaela Sulz is a passionate birder and blogger for ZEISS Nature Blog.