Why Are Bats Important?
Without getting philosophical, ask yourself – is there any species that can go extinct without consequences for the planet?
Nope. Not even blood-sucking bats (which are a very small minority of bats, by the way).
Bats are vital for the ecosystem. Without pollination by bats, we wouldn’t have tequila. No seriously. Tequila is made from the agave plant. The agave plant is pollinated by bats.
Ergo, no bats, no tequila.
But it spreads further than the liquor industry. Bats make up ¼ of the UK’s mammal population (20% all mammal species worldwide) with over a thousand bat species. Some eat fruit, others like flowers but most love crunching juicy insects.
We bet no matter how much you shudder at the thought of bats, you shudder more at creepy crawlies!
The key benefits of our batty friends are:
- Pollination for vital plant species
- Pest control
- Fertilisation (nutritional bat droppings, guano, support all kinds of life!)
- Seed dispersal
Without our furry bees of the night, the world would undoubtedly be a more sober, sadder and insect-ridden place.
Before we dig further into the impact of bats and how you can help our native UK species, take a look at these 3 cuties and keep in mind that ⅓ of all bat species are threatened or in need of conservation.
Queue sad music.
We are totally serious when we say bats are the bees of the night. Bats and pollination go hand in hand.
Pollination by bats is called chiropterophily (say it 5 times fast) and is vital for many tropical and subtropical plant species.
We won’t lie, bats pollinating is hardly the norm. The majority of bats are insectivores with few species feasting on flower nectar and spreading pollen.
But that just means the pollinating minority are so much more important.
These bats are mostly in tropical and subtropical areas of the world, where the environment is already taking a battering. First palm oil deforestation, now bats decimation.
Take the Baobab tree, for example. It can live for 1000 years and continuously grows foliage and fruit through the African dry season, providing essential food to animals and humans.
It’s no wonder they call it the tree of life! And the only way this ancient tree can be pollinated is with bats.
Fruit Bat Pollination
Here are just some of the fruits (and a few other foods) that rely on bats.
But Can We Live Without Pollinating bats?
We’ve advanced agriculture to the point that we can artificially pollinate or clone plants. It’s a very common practice for the global demand of many fruits listed above.
But this can have pretty serious consequences.
Cloned plants, for example, are more prone to disease. If just one of your plants is infected with fungus, it’ll spread like wildfire without simple biodiversity.
Natural bat pollination might be slower, but it’s far better!
How to help: buy organic tropical foods like banana, cocoa and mango that rely on bat pollination. Farmers that cultivate naturally and make room for native plants are better for the entire ecosystem, including bats.
In the UK, all our bat species are insect-munchers rather than pollinators, so keep reading to find out how you can help our native night-bees.
5 Bat Pollination Facts
Share our important facts about bats with your friends on social media to stop the hate:
Fact 1: There are over 500 species of plants that are pollinated by nectar-feeding bats, including fruit-producing plants, beautiful flowers and tropical trees.
Fact 2: Echolocation can be used by bats to find nectar-giving flowers as well as insects! And did you know that bats aren’t actually blind?
Fact 3: like giraffes, pollinating bats can have seriously long tongues to reach their food. The Anoura fistulata nectar bat’s tongue is 8.5cm – 150% the size of its body length.
Fact 4: Bats and bees pollinate different flowers. Bees prefer brightly-coloured flowers while bats favour pale, tubular ones that are easy to spot at night.
Fact 5: Bats are perhaps better pollinators than insects. Their larger bodies carry more pollen and they can fly much further to pollinate distant plants.
Bat Radar – How Bats Tell a Story
Monitoring bats is our dream full-time job – and an important one.
We can use bats like a radar to understand the health of the overall environment. Bats are sensitive creatures. When there are changes to the environment, you’ll hear about it from the bats.
Monitoring bats in the UK is especially important and rather easy. Our 18 species of bats live in all kinds of environments from woodlands and lakesides to urban areas.
When something upsets your local ecosystem, the bats will be the first to let you know and can indicate that other species will soon be disrupted too. It’s all linked!
How to help: turn the porch light off. Light pollution is damaging to bats and you won’t spot any with the lights on. Once you’re in a bat-friendly spot, join the national bat monitoring programme and get recording!
Who You Gonna Call? Bat Pest Control!
The common pipistrelle bat (the cute one native to the UK that can fit in a matchbox) eats up to 3000 insects per night, including all those annoying gnats.
Ironic, isn’t it?
The little mammal you’re scared of thanks to blood-sucking stories is keeping you from being bitten at night!
Bat pest control is excellent for humans and it’s also good for our agriculture. After a day of pollination from our dwindling bees (that’s a whole other rant) the bats swoop in at night to snack on nocturnal insects that otherwise devour those crops.
How to help: our insect-eating native bats naturally roost in old, gnarly trees… but these are few and far between nowadays. Instead, you can install a bat box in your garden or on the side of your house.
You can also make your garden more friendly for insect life. A pond boosts your back-garden ecosystem or you can plant night scented and moth-attracting plants, like honeysuckle and evening primrose.
Bat FAQs to Summarise
Pollinating bats are vital for some flower species and they control pests by eating insects, allowing plant life to thrive. They’re a part of the ecosystem that we can’t afford to lose.
They pollinate plants so we can enjoy tasty foods like mango and control pests so farmers can grow organic crops. Losing any species in the ecosystem has widespread consequences for all life on the planet.
Bats keep the insect population down, while bats themselves are food for owls, snakes and hawks. With urban expansion and intensive agriculture with pesticides, bats are in decline… which affects owl populations. Did you know the bat-eating UK tawny owl is on the RSPB Amber list of concern? And that’s just a sliver of the UK’s ecosystem.
Natural pest control! Birds of prey like the UK’s buzzard snack on rodents while bats target insects. Did you know that insects eat other insects? Ladybirds love eating aphids.
If you’re wondering do bats eat honeybees after you’ve worked to make your garden bee-friendly, the answer is no. Don’t worry! UK bats are nocturnal and feast on moths, gnats and other nocturnal insects.