So it was 7:30 pm on a weekday. I was on my way home from work enjoying the cool breeze. The sky was a deep dark blue slowing turning darker. Suddenly the air was filled with a lot of loud screeching noises. Perplexed I looked up and saw about a couple of dozen birds flying overhead screeching loudly. They circled around and came back a few times. I was fascinated by all the screeching and kept watching them. Much to my surprise, no one else around seemed to be paying any attention to this. Most of the people around had just left from work like me and were busy chatting on their cell phones or to each other. All of them seemed to be in a hurry to catch a bus or a train or whatever it took for them to reach home as soon as possible.
It wasn’t until about ten minutes later that I happened to pay attention to the silhouette of the bird’s feathers overhead that were still circling the sky. The feather outline seemed like the ribbed, veined edges of an umbrella. Realization then dawned and quickly converted into excitement when I figured that what I was looking at were not birds. They were Bats! Wow! It seemed like a fantastic scene from a horror flick…dark sky and the Bats circling around every now and then and screeching loudly.
From then on, I made it a point to leave around the same time from work whenever possible and watch out for the bats. And not too long thereafter, I discovered the tree where they were roosting. There were a few Eucalyptus Trees and Ficus Trees in the area and there must be about a hundred Bats in all that were roosting on these trees. They looked really funny hanging upside down with their ‘wings’ tightly wrapped around their bodies. It seemed as if there were black plastic bags hanging on the trees. I tried clicking them using my phone and was really disappointed. They were so high up and with the sun shining above them, all I could really get were the silhouettes.
Later I carried a camera and managed to get better pictures of them. The pictures are still not detailed because they do roost really high up, but they are better than the earlier silhouette shots. From what I can see in the pictures, they seem to be Fruit Bat species that is the Indian Flying Fox or the Pteropus giganteus. Please feel free to correct me if I haven’t identified them right.
About Basic facts about Bats
First of all, Bats are not birds. They are Mammals. Their fore limbs form webbed wings which enable them to fly. They are the only mammals capable of true and sustained flight. In contrast, other flying mammals like Flying Squirrels can only glide for short distances rather than fly.
There are more than 1200 species of Bats worldwide that is they account for about 20% of the mammal species.
Role in Ecosystem
Besides being a part of the ‘Thrill’ factor in horror flicksJ, Bats have a very important role in the eco-system. Bats are either insectivores or frugivores. Only three species are parasitic, that is they drink blood and all of them are in Latin America.
More than two third of the bat species feed on insects. A single Brown Bat can devour upto 1000 mosquito sized insects within an hour. They thus perform a very important role of getting rid of the pests which would otherwise damage the agricultural crops. Almost a third of the Bat species feed on flower nectar and fruits thereby acting as vital pollinating and seed dispersal agents.
Despite the important functions carried out by Bats, the age old myths and superstitions surrounding Bats cause them to be killed in large numbers.
Top 3 Myths about Bats dispelled…
1) Bats are blind
Bats are not blind. They have a poor sight but they can see. It is true that like Dolphins, Bats also use echolocation in order to navigate during the night and avoid collisions, but they are definitely not blind.
2) Fruits Bats are a nuisance
It is a common myth that Fruit Bats cause a lot of damage to fruits because of which they are called vermin. But the fact is that Bats east only over ripe fruits that are unfit for human consumption.
3) Bats latch on to people and suck blood
There are only three species of Blood sucking Bats and they suck blood from Cattle and not people. Infact the enzyme found in the saliva of the blood sucking Bats is used to treat human stroke victims.
In recent times the importance of Bats has been recognised in India and conservation efforts are being made by Government and Non Government Organizations alike. What is required is awareness of the people. It’s about time that people stop looking at Bats with superstitious myths and realize their importance in the global ecosystem and work towards their habitat restoration and conservation.