Over twenty percent of all mammal species are of the order Chiroptera, aka Bats. They live everywhere except Antarctica, and perform important tasks such control of insects and pollination. Yet people seem to hate them, and for so many reasons.
1. Their name? Chiroptera (kai-rop-ter-uh) is hard to pronounce. Just like food ingredients that some avoid because they can’t pronounce them, Chiropteras fall prey to this prejudice. How silly is this? Chiroptera means hand-wing. What could be cuter?
2. Vampire bats? Out of over 1200 species of bats, there are just three species of vampire bats, and they all live in Central and South America. Less than 10% of the world’s population lives anywhere close these bats, and they rarely prey on humans anyway. Forget the vampire thing.
3. Batman? Isn’t this a plus?
4. Disease? Also every news story about rabies, mentions bats. Even in places without rabies, bats are known as disease carriers. In Australia, famously rabies free, bats harbor Hendra Virus (HeV), Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV), Menangle virus, Tioman virus, and Nipah virus. However lots of other mammals host zoonotic diseases (remember swine flu and bird flu). The taxoplasmosis risks to pregnant women from cats doesn’t do any to harm their supremacy in the Internet cute hierarchy.
5. Nocturnal? Could it be that people just dislike/fear nocturnal animals. That is unless they are cats (cute cats again), or owls, or koalas, or tree frogs, or fireflies, even large cats that would be happy to have you for lunch.
We should all learn so love bats, so for Mother’s Day, let’s look at bat mothers.
Being a bat mother is a serious challenge. First consider that a bat mom must fly while she is pregnant. Bat moms don’t take the easy way out of this one like birds with their tiny eggs and short gestations, or other mammals with small babies. Bat pups can weigh up to 25% of mom’s weight with a 6 month gestation. Assuming people could fly, imagine flying with a 30 pound near-term fetus. That alone is enough to celebrate Mother’s Day for Bats.
The mother bat normally limits herself to one pup at a time, just once a year. She has strategies to make sure the little bundle of joy has the best chances by giving birth when food is most abundant. This is done without help from the males, some of whom have the largest testicles, up to 8% of body weight as an indication of their priorities. Guys, your turn. Imagine 12 pound balls.
Bat mothers side-track the sperm to save it until the optimum time, or if they do get pregnant, they can suspend the development until the right time. These caring mother’s are prepared to give their children the best regardless of what the guys might be thinking. Happy Bat Mother’s Day, but maybe we’ll skip Father’s Day for the furry little flyers.
Once this bat child is born, it must be nursed. How long? It is that flying thing again. Bats can’t fly until they are adults. Mom nurses the little darling until it is adult size, again without any help from those men with the big balls and small brains. (That is a separate story, but science has discovered that testicle size and brain size are inversely correlated).
So Happy Mother’s Day to all the bats, most dedicated mother’s of the animal world. Next time someone says something bad about bats, we can defend them as dedicated, loving mothers.