The Science of Sustainability

Fur is Flying – Bay Area Bats* in peril

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Look! Up in the night sky! It's a bird! It's a bloodsucker! No, it is a beneficial friend, the bat!

Bats have been around for about 50 million years and are among the earth's oldest animals: they also are some of the most misunderstood. Because they are nocturnal and strange looking, people have associated bats with evil things for centuries. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, bats play a very important role in the economic and environmental health of the world.

In rain forests and deserts, bats are some of the most important pollinators of plants. Without bat pollinators, the wild varieties of many foods we eat: avocados, bananas, cashews, mangoes and peaches couldn't grow.

Fruit eating bats spread seeds as they fly and digest. As natural insect controls, they can't be beat. One bat can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in one hour!

There are nearly 1000 species of bats worldwide, most of which live in tropical regions, like our very own Flying Foxes at The Oakland Zoo. Forty three species live in the US. In fact, almost a quarter of the world's mammals are bats! Bats are the only mammal that can fly and are in a special order called Chiroptera, which means "Hand wing." Bat wings are actually membranes of skin that stretch between their hands and legs. Bats give birth to helpless young and are breast fed milk by their mothers.

The nine Bay Area counties are a veritable haven for bats. To join the ranks of bat-watchers, head to a favorite outdoor spot at sunset anytime between May and October. Visit Sunol Regional Wilderness, Tilden Regional Park, or Foothills Open Space Preserve. Stroll the campuses at Berkeley or Stanford, or the beach at Bolinas, Pescadero, or Fort Funston. Sit beside one of the lakes in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or find an open spot in downtown Martinez. The shadows you see in flight may be any of 14 species found in the Bay Area–from the ubiquitous little brown, big brown, or Mexican free-tailed bats, to the diminutive western pipistrelles and sparrow-sized hoary bats.

Over the past 150 years, as development has altered the California landscape, bats have faced the loss of roosting sites and the destruction of woodlands and waterways where they feed. Like birds, bats have been devastated by the use of pesticides that kill off their prey, contaminate water sources, and accumulate in their body tissues. Our beneficial friends are in trouble! You can help California bats by putting up bat houses, or joining a conservation group like Bat Conservation International www.batcon.org.

Check out http://flyingfur.typepad.com for more bat blogging.

*Editor's note: This is not to be confused with "Bay Area Bites," KQED's award-winning food and wine blog, which is going strong.

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at The Oakland Zoo.

latitude: 37.7502, longitude: -122.148

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Category: Biology, Environment, Partners

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Amy Gotliffe

About the Author ()

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at the Oakland Zoo. She is a Detroit transplant, enjoying the good Bay Area life for 17 years. She has a degree in communications, holds several teaching credentials and has a Masters Degree in Environmental Education. She has worked at various Bay Area educational and environmental institutions, teaching second grade, working on campaigns, planting pollinator gardens, producing earth day events and generally spreading the word about wildlife and green living. She currently works at The Oakland Zoo where she serves as the Conservation Manager. There, she coordinates support for international, national and local conservation efforts, produces a Conservation Speaker Series, produces the zoo's Earth Day event, leads eco-trips, teaches the various educational programs and heads up an on-site Green Team. On her list of other passions are travel, photography, music and the lindy hop. :-)
  • Agedst

    Thanksfor the info. My Daughter lives in Oakland, I needed to know if Bats lived there so I could get her a Bathouse for Christmas.