As human beings, we are mainly active during the day and largely unaware of what’s happening around us in the animal kingdom at night. Most of the large predators’ activity takes place after dark; lions and leopards have eyesight perfectly suited to their nocturnal habits. However, some of the other nocturnal mammals have eyesight less developed for seeing in the dark yet they still function perfectly well in the pitch black. We fear the creatures that come out at night, as a lady some worry that the small flying creatures will tangle themselves in our hair or whatever it is about the dark that frightens us. There are many negative mythological stories of nocturnal creatures like hyenas, owls, and bats. In today’s blog, I would like to focus our attention on the incredible abilities of bats to do what they do.
The misconception for many years is that bats were associated with witches, and the underworld, and thus used as a scary decoration for houses on Halloween. But the truth is that most bats are as aggressive as a Golden Retriever puppy and they are not blind so they will not make a beeline for your hair. Yes, they may be hosts for a few zoonotic diseases, but they have greater significance than just that.
All over the Earth, except in the North and South pole regions, bats form a dark cloud as they leave their caves or tree branches adding contrast against the hues of desert yellow and rose pink skies signalling dusk. The dark wave separates as they go out in search of insects, nectar, fruits, and seeds.
Fruit bats are the reason that a majority of Londolozi’s trees exist. Most of the tropical forests and Savanna trees in Africa are pollinated by fruit bats. One of their most important roles is that they are pollinators of many of these trees and some plants depend partially, or solely, on bats to pollinate their flowers or spread their seeds. Some products that we benefit from as a result of bats are dates, bananas, the delicious mango you snack on at Londolozi during the coffee stops under a tree and agave from which we get tequila. But for the animals too, many rely on trees like the Sausage Tree (pollinated by the Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat) for food and also shelter.
The insect-eating bats are pest controllers. A little brown bat can eat more insects than its own body weight each night, including pests that destroy the crops on which we depend. A cloud of microbats (insectivores) can eat more than 100 000 Kilograms of crop-destroying insects a night. To put this into perspective that is the weight of around 20 elephants. Not only can they help protect our crops from insects, but they also control the number of mosquitoes in an area. Insectivorous bats are fascinating in that they are able to manoeuvre around in pitch black with nocturnal vision that is below par and still manage to catch a significant amount of food in one evening. All done while in flight, hunting on the wing.
So how do they do it? They emit a high-frequency sound and are able to calculate from the echoes that bounce back to them exactly what lies ahead. From this, they can work out how big the insect is, what direction it is flying and how fast. Basically everything that they would need to successfully swoop in and pluck it out of the night sky.
Bats are good indicators of healthy biodiversity, their population numbers signal any changes in the ecosystems. Thus, their presence should be rejoiced and not seen as a danger in the night skies.
In 2016, Kate MacEwan, head of Inkululeko Wildlife Services, visited Londolozi with her husband Bo in order to study the bat populations and diversity at Londolozi. Through this study, it was great to realise just how many bats are around. Over a few evenings with the apparatus set up to catch the bats they were able to identify 10 different species on Londolozi alone. There are probably more species that occur here but these were just the ones identified. Which baffled many of the rangers, mostly because you often hear the bats but seldomly take the time to sit and identify them as they fly overhead. Below is a list of the bats found.
Green House bat Scotophilus verdis
Little Free Tail bat Chaerephon pumilus
Welwitsch’s myotis Myotis welwitschii
Zulu serotine Neoromicia zuluensis
Banana bat Neoromicia nana
Schlieffen’s Twilight bat Nycticeinops schlieffeni
Mauritian tomb bat Taphozous mautitiannus
Egyptian Slit faced bat Nycertis thebaica
Temminck’s myotis Myotis tricolour
With the rarest being the:
Giant Yellow House bat Scotophilus nigrita
A couple of photos to show the methods behind the study.