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What do you call a super-immune pollinator that produces guano?4 min read

October 28, 2020 3 min read


What do you call a super-immune pollinator that produces guano?4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo: Giphy

You call them a lot of things — bloodsucking vampires, Count Dracula, props in haunted houses, and even virus-spreaders. Bats have had a bad rap for years now. But how do these flying mammals carry so many deadly zoonotic (those that spread from animals to humans) diseases such as SARS, MERS, rabies, and Covid-19 and not get sick themselves? As we inch closer to the scariest day of the year – Halloween – Owliver takes a look at what makes these furry flying creatures so hardy.  

Bats are so tiny — how do they carry things as heavy as life-threatening disases?

Studies point out that bats and coronavirus-like diseases have been evolving together for MILLIONS of years. Scientists say that compared to other animals, bats carry a lot more diseases that can infect humans. They have some unique traits that may allow them to be the perfect hosts for diseases.

Bats don’t believe in personal space., so they huddle together when they’re not flying.
Photo: Pixabay
  • They are VERY social mammals. Bats spend most of their day huddled together. Unlike us humans, they don’t believe in social distancing, so a virus can rapidly spread among an entire population of bats.
  • Bats have very powerful immune systems that help them carry an illness without catching it themselves! For example, bats are able to survive with rabies, but for a human, rabies is deadly. 
  • Bats are the only mammal with the ability to fly. Flying requires a lot more energy than swimming, walking or running, due to which bats have a much higher metabolic rate compared to other mammals. Their DNA has adapted perfectly to suit their high metabolism, and is more efficient at fighting viruses than other mammals. This is also the reason bats live for longer than other mammals their size – a bat on average lives up to 20 years. 

Wait, do they sneak up on us at night and give us the diseases while we’re asleep?

The types of diseases animals can spread to humans. Photo: Wikipedia

Bats can spread viruses to humans directly through bites or through exposure to saliva, fecal aerosols, or infected tissues as well as indirectly through contact with infected hosts, such as pigs. In recent years, human-bat contact has increased, mainly due to habitat loss, leading bats to move to urban areas in search of food and a safe place to stay. Humans have also started creeping into areas where bats live naturally, which leads to contact and the risk of spread of diseases.

What’s the solution? Are bats even worth keeping around?

Bats can actually be quite cute if we give them the chance. Photo: PickPik

Trying to reduce human-bat contact by eliminating bats is not the answer, say experts, as they are essential for the planet. Bats are crucial pollinators of hundreds of plants, they help in seed dispersal, and help farmers by eating many insects that destroy crops. 

Don’t get all batty about these facts:

  • Bats can find their food in total darkness
  • Bats can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour
  • Some bats hibernate in caves through the cold winter months
  • Bat droppings, called guano, are one of the richest fertilizers on the planet
  • The Bracken Bat Cave in Texas is home to the world’s largest bat colony
Owliver's Riddles:
What did the bat say to the vampire?
“You suck”.