A LITTLE BATTY
Flying Fox, a type of megabat that eats, pollinates and disperses fruit plants, Signe Allerslev
BAT APPRECIATION MONTH, A Great Opportunity for Children
Every October is bat appreciation month, and based on my experience, one mammal that should be on the high priority list for educating children about. Do we need to relegate one month of appreciation though? Let’s do a lifetime instead. As a biologist, who had some of her first field experiences with bats in Central Texas, they are absolutely one of my favorites and one of the most misunderstood species out there. But this is one of those perfect opportunities to teach holistically and immerse every aspect of learning here. First, some batty background.
Bats have been part of the Earth's system for well over 50 million years. Their fossils began showing up in the Eocene Epoch, which is part of our modern Cenozoic Era. There have been over 1400 bat species discovered as of 2021. Of those, they are divided into two categories of bats: Microchiroptera (insect eating bats) and Megachiroptera (nectar and fruit eating bats). Both types occur in the United States, but only two species are the Megachiroptera, or Megabats (unless you include U.S. territories like Guam and American Samoa, then the total is three), and the rest belong to the insect eater group. Bats live an average of 30 years if not affected by human caused devastation, such as habitat destruction, and tend to only have one live pup per year during their reproductive years. They are intelligent mammals that evolved from a common ancestor with horses, whales and pangolins and the only mammal to evolve true flight.
BIOLOGICALLY AND ECONOMICALLY IMPORTANT
Bats are biologically and economically valuable all over the world. They are responsible for pollinating much of Australia's economically important lumber trees and dry eucalyptus forests. Many tropical and sub-tropical rainforest regions rely on bats to keep their forest ecosystems pollinated and regenerating. Over 500 species of plants rely on bats for pollination and wouldn't exist without them. Many of them are ones you are familiar with, such as bananas, guava, mangoes, vanilla, avocadoes, and agave. Over 90 of those plants provide important medicines we rely on that wouldn't be possible without bats pollinating them. Entire ecosystems in the southwest actually depend on them and would begin to fall apart if they disappeared. And without insectivore bats, we'd be drowning in pest insects that would devastate farmer's crops all over the world.
Eucalyptus Forest by Siggy Nowak
A GENTLE, SOCIAL AND NURTURING SPECIES
Bats live in colonies of mostly females and their young. These colonies can number into the millions. Depending upon the species, males may or may not live with the colony. Those that do tend to stay off in smaller groups and those that do not, often live in small groups with each other elsewhere or are solitary until breeding season.
Bats benefit from maintaining a close-knit roosting group because it is important for rearing pups. Photo by Alan Cressler, USGS
To live in groups like this, especially the large female-predominate groups, bats must be able to get along. Studies have repeatedly shown they tend to live in cooperation with each other, even helping out with each other’s young at times, which increases viability rate of offspring. Some species will even bring food back to ailing members of the group and feed them. And though some squabbles may occur over roosting spots, they are short-lived and most vocalizations are socially positive.
Here's a look at a large nursery colony crowded with babies and moms trying to get to them to nurse.
Mothers, especially, are quite chatty with their offspring. And of all that chattiness, studies have recorded up to 50 different vocalizations in some species with around 30 vocalizations on average. Bats will shy away from humans, but bats in captivity have been shown to be extremely gentle and cuddly with humans, as well as with each other. Mothers and babies especially spend a lot of time in close contact, but bats in general spend a lot of time hanging out with each other communicating and grooming. Some even groom each other and seem to enjoy this “spa” treatment.
Here is a video of an Australian bat named Blossom. Blossom bats are only found in one particular region of Australia. It’s believed that she was injured by a cat, and in this video was being rehabilitated for release back into the wild. Watch how much she loves contact and grooming.
This is another video of both types of bats, Megabats and Microbats, with a wildlife rehabilitator. You can see the strong bond different species of bats have with her.
INSECT EATING BATS
Approximately 45 species of microchiroptera bats live in the United States and Canada. More live in Mexico and Latin America so our entire continent is populated with bats. Most bats of the world live in tropical or subtropical forests and many are fruit eating or nectar feeding bats, but of the species that live in the United States, the majority are insectivores. In just the United States, it’s estimated that bats eating pest insects save farmers an average of 23 billion dollars a year in crop losses and pesticide costs. And any pesticide reduction on our food is a great thing for us too. This estimate doesn’t take into account the pests eaten by bats in forest ecosystems and their value to the timber industry. Nor does it take into account their estimate of insects eaten that would destroy home gardens or the bat value outside of the United States to the rest of the world. Imagine how much more that total would be if we did take all that into consideration.
NECTAR FEEDING BATS
In North America, we have two nectar feeding species that migrate to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas every year from Mexico: the Lesser Long Nosed Bat and the Mexican Long Tongued Bat. Both bat species are federally endangered. The Lesser Long Nosed Bat and the Mexican Long Tongued Bat are responsible for pollinating cacti, succulunts, agaves and cardons all over the southwest, including within the Sonoran Desert located mostly in Mexico. In fact, they pollinate the Sauguaro cactus flower there, which only opens one night in spring and is a keystone species. Without the Sauguaro, the entire Sonoran ecosystem would begin to fall apart as a keystone is the glue that holds the system together. Both bats have long, tubular tongues to help them reach nectar inside flowers. In the process they cross pollinate the vast dessert ecosystem's plants. Without the bats, these plants would become non-existent.
A LITTLE BATTY
THE BEST KIND OF LEARNING
Bats are amazing mammals. Spend some time this year getting to know them. If you homeschool, you can incorporate practically every subject into a bat unit, including ethics and emotions, in a way that it doesn’t even seem like you are studying a specific subject. It’ll just feel like a fun and interesting time learning about bats! But isn’t that the way some of the best learning happens?
Here’s a short video with a lot of good information for parents who want to teach their children about why we need bats, common bat misconceptions and how we can protect them. This link will take you to a page with some of my favorite US bats, including one that eats scorpions. That's definitely impressive.
Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas from the book A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart
This link will take you to a 360-degree view of one of my favorite places I used to bat watch when I lived in Central Texas: Bracken Caves near San Antonio. And this link will take you to my favorite urban bat colony to watch in Central Texas and one I was lucky enough to intern at with biologists studying bats: Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas.
In case you haven't figured it out, I think bats are pretty special. Here are a couple more bat videos that are particularly fun for elementary aged children: The Bat Squad, videos for children starring children, Hey Bats, What’s Your Habitat? and Amazing Bats!.
BUT I DON’T WANT BATS IN MY ATTIC
Of course you don’t! Bats are critical to ecosystem health, and having them live so near you means you have way less mosquitoes than you would! However, having bats roost in your attic can be smelly and noisy. And though rabies in the United States is rare, bats can be just as much a carrier of this disease as foxes, raccoons, and even stray dogs and cats. Luckily, there are some humane ways to get rid of bats from your attic while encouraging them to re-roost outside in bat houses or relocate further away. The article “How to Get Rid of Bats” on the blog How I Get Rid Of (howigetridof.com) has several humane methods to try when your attic is inhabited by bats. They have another good article of humane methods on their blog called “How to Catch a Bat Inside Your House.” And check out the plans and links below about bat houses. Building them with your children can be a priceless memory and an immersive experience in many types of skills and learning and another place for bats to roost besides your attic.
WOODWORKING FOR BATS = IMMERSIVE EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN
Mathematical Operations, Fractions, Measurement, Woodworking Skills, Heat Transfer, Heat Reflection versus Absorption, Sequencing, Diagrams, Air Currents, Textures, Wood Types, Surface Area…Yes, You guessed it! We are building a bat house.
We like to add a bat house every other year where we live to give bats a safe place to hang out. Look at all those important concepts in the sub-title above that children can practice and learn if they build a bat house with you! That doesn't include all the other overlaps and opportunities that will happen when studying bats. The video link in the previous sentence will help you understand what makes a good bat house because there are a lot out there for sale that aren't that great. Building your own allows you to customize it for your region too. Building the baby house large enough and with the correct air flow and layers is critical to your bath house being successful. If you would rather purchase one, do some research with my links below so you don’t get stuck with one that is doomed to fail from the beginning. They do work if built correctly!
Here's another link about why bat house size matters or watch the video here below.
Here is a video about the giant bat houses in Florida that get quite the viewing audience each night.
You can also visit Bat Conservation International if you'd like some free bat house plans from expert Merlin Tuttle and BCI, and I included a free bat house building resource guide below in the links for parents, as well as a link to this book in the photo below, Birdhouses & More, which we sell in our shop. Our children loved hammering and sawing anytime we built bat houses with them, and our grandchildren do too now. It’s a great handcraft skill to teach children (fully supervised, of course) and even preschoolers can participate. We think you’ll love it, as well.
Birdhouse and More by A.J. Hamler
MORE BAT RESOURCES (plus a bit more about woodworking with children)
Woodworking with Children Resources
If you click on a book cover, it will take you to a page with a description.
Online Bat Resources For Children
- Fish and Wildlife Bat Math Activity
- Bat Recipe Book: A cookbook of goodies & treats made with bat-dependent ingredients (fyi: the end of the book has a few recipes with "agave nectar" for parents only but the rest is all for kids and is pretty good)
- National Parks Junior Cave Scientist
- Origami Bat instructions
- All About Bats: Myths versus Facts
- Bats by the Season for Kids: What is happening to bats and where do they go in autumn, winter, spring and summer?
- Bat Parts Diagram for Children
- Bat Habitat Observation Activity for Children
- Bat Finger Puppet Template (though I’d recommend drawing it on and cutting it out from wool felt)
- US Forest Service talks about bats to children
- Gardening for Bats: Help Children Organize a Garden to Attract Moths and other Insects bats eat
- Bats of Eastern Woodlands Poster (print in bigger size online through sites like Canva or in person at places like UPS or Costco.)
- Bats of Western Forests Poster (see where to print above)
- Bats on the Brink song by Mr. G ( author of Senorita Mariposa)
- See different types of bats here
- Bat Conservation International YouTube Playlist
- Bat Builder’s Handbook: find more building plans for different bat houses here including color recommendations for your temperature zone region, experiments, FAQs and more
- Bats 101 from Bat Conservation International
- Bat Garden Guide is a more in-depth guide for planning a bat garden, including what kind of plants work best in each region of the U.S.
- Background Information for Homeschool Parents: Get to Know the Faces of Bat Week Free Recorded Bat Webinar, Learn about bats so you can teach your children
- Background Information for Homeschool Parents: Learn and Share About the Benefits of Bats
- Check out your Department of Fish and Wildlife for resources in your area. Here’s one we used from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- Bat Conservation International
- Book Club for Educators over Zoom each month at 4:00 PM Arizona time to discuss science literacy around Bat Week using children’s books and more—free registration (closed for 2021; check back in September 2022)
- Bat Week website, Bat Week is October 24 - 31each year, but you can sign up on the website to receive information for next year.
- Bat Recipe Book: A cookbook of goodies & treats made with bat-dependent ingredients.
- National Wildlife Federation's Night Friends, American Bats Online Resource book (free)
- Bat Detective, a Family Citizen Science Project (this study is finished; check here for other citizen science projects that you and your family may live)
- Neighbourhood Bat Watch (Canada only), a Family Citizen Science Project
- Arizona Bat Watch, a Family Citizen Science Project (you don't necessarily need to be from Arizona to participate)
- The Case for Vampire Bats by NPT
Bat Picture Book Resources
Stellaluna by Janelle Cannon--Stellaluna is praised for its accurate drawings of bats and though this is a fictional story for young children, it helps remove negative stereotypes about bats. Cannon was inspired in her artwork by the Gambian epauletted fruit bats.
Nightsong by Ari—A fictional story about the real use of bat echolocation.
Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies--An accurate description of bats and bat behaviors using the tiny Pipistrille Bats (bumblebee bats) as inspiration.
Bats by Gail Gibbons—Nonfiction book about the amazing bat!
A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart--Nonfiction book about bats, using illustrated scenes of actual bat colonies in real places. Award Winning Book
Enjoy. And spread some batty love around.