Swooping out of sight: Bats in need of greater protection

28 October 2011 | News story

Nocturnal, furry and known for their spooky reputation around Halloween, bats are not only the mysterious mammals that haunt the dark; they are also an important part of nature and in need of greater protection. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, 20% of bats are threatened.

“Bats are disappearing at an alarming rate, due largely in part to ignorance and a misunderstanding of the benefits they provide,” says Paul A. Racey, Co-Chair IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group. “We need to build capacity for bat conservation and we must educate young people about the value of these animals.”

Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals capable of flying. Bats are also the second largest order of mammals—numbering about 1,250 species. The smallest bat in the world is the Hog-nosed Bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) measuring around 30 mm in length. It is probably the smallest species of mammal that exists. The largest bat is the Golden-capped Fruit Bat (Acerodon jubatus), which is around 340 mm long and has a wingspan of 1.5 m.

Crucial to the environment, bats carry out the important ecological services of pollination, seed dispersal and reduction of pest insects. In South East Asia, bats, specifically the Dawn Bat (Eonycteris spelaea), pollinate durian, a high-value fruit, and also pettai, a vegetable used in curries. In Madagascar, endemic fruit bats pollinate some of the six endemic species of baobabs, including Adansonia suarezensis, only a few hundred individuals of which survive around Diego Suarez.

About 70% of bats depend on insects for the main part of their diet, while the remainder are essentially fruit eaters. Bats dietary needs are mutually beneficial to farmers and crop growers. For example, in Texas, Mexican Free Tailed Bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) eat the pests that plague cotton and tobacco crops, reducing the insect population and the number of pesticide applications needed.

Around the world, bats can be found making their home in almost every environment available. Bats will inhabit caves, tree hollows, foliage, and even man-made structures, as they require only two things: a place for foraging and a roost where they can sleep. The main threats to bats are the loss of their roosting and foraging habitats.

Bats have the most sophisticated ultrasonic obstacle avoidance and prey detection system in the animal kingdom—they emit high frequency sounds above the range of human hearing that allow them to localize obstacles and food. Attempts have been made replicate bat echolocation in order to produce aids for visually-impaired humans.

“Bats are among the most underappreciated groups of mammals in the world and major steps are needed to safeguard them,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “Protection for bat roosting and foraging habitats, as well as effective response to specific threats, such as wind farms, is imperative.”

For more information please contact:

Maggie Roth, IUCN Media Relations, m: +1 202 262 5313 e: maggie.roth@iucn.org