|Unless you happen to find a bat in your attic or in a
barn (such as the Big Brown Bat, Eptesicus fuscus, I photographed in the barn
next to my trailer, shown at the right), there's not much the backyard naturalist can
actually do with bats. Even if you find one, it's best not to view it from a
distance. If you do find a wounded or trapped one, don't pick it
up, for rarely they can be carriers of the disease rabies.
Even if you somehow had access to one you didn't have to worry about getting rabies from, identification can be difficult. You must examine such things as the length of their forearms, the shape of a leaflike structure in the ear known as the tragus, and details of the membrane that makes up most of the wing's surface area. In other words, usually you need to handle the bat, and that's not wise. With bats, just be content to admire them as they do their work collecting insects from the night sky. Also, don't let the problem with rabies spoil your admiration for this wonderful kind of creature. Just leave them alone, learn about them, and admire them!
A Field Guide to the Mammals, one of the Peterson Field Guide Series, by Burt & Grossenheider, describes 38 bat species for North America north of Mexico. In my home area in southern Mississippi we have about ten species.
All North American bats fly at night -- they're nocturnal. Nearly all eat insects, which they capture while flying. Probably a bat's tiny eyes are of no use at night, for bats use a kind of sonar called echolocation to help locate flying bugs, and to stay away from telephone wires, tree limbs, and one another. As bats fly they emit extremely high-pitched sounds that bounce, or echo, back to them. Since the farther anything is from them, the longer it takes for the echo to return, they can judge by the echo's time-lapse how distant objects are. When you see how fast bats dart about in the air, you'll be amazed at how complex the echolocation-handling part of their brain must be if they can react so quickly to all the echoes coming from different directions.
One problem in a bat's life is finding a good place to spend the day. During days, bats hang upside-down by little hook-like claws on their forearms. Some species spend their days alone, maybe hanging among tree leaves or inside hollow tree-trunks or building attics, while others pass the day in large groups, especially in caves and tunnels. Some species make seasonal migrations like birds, while others hibernate when the weather grows cold.
The most common species in my own backyard is the Southeastern Myotis, Myotis austroriparius. My field guide says that this species hangs inlarge clusters with a density of about 150 bats per square foot! It's fun to know such things!
Mother bats produce only a few babies at one time -- one or two in most species. Among animals, having low birthrates is considered to reflect a high degree of social sophistication. In fact, in some bat species the mothers actually carry their young with them as they fly, until the young become large enough to stay at home alone.
You can review some batty books available at Amazon.com by clicking here.
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