3 Lessons Bats Can Teach Us About Life
Caped Crusaders: Bats Are Environmental Good Guys
We all have that relative—however distant—who manages to sully the family's good name through their mischief and misdeeds. For the world's 1,200 or so species of bats, it's their vampire bat cousins, spread throughout Latin and South America.1
While only three bat species actually feed on blood, their habits have spawned centuries of myths and misinformation.2 As a result, people fail to comprehend that bats are actually the good guys. (Let that sink in for a minute.)
Heroes that they are, bats are wise and willing to share with us humans three important life lessons. In return, they hope we won't continue to hold the entire bat family responsible for a few rogue members. (Can you identify?)
Let's Hang Out
Bats: Signs You May Have Company in Your Attic
Do you have cracks around windows, pipes, or electrical wiring that are 1/3 inch (8.5 mm) or more wide? Bats can squeeze through openings as small as that.
Signs you may have a bat roost in your attic include:
- ammonia odors from accumulated bat waste
- fecal droppings beneath bats' entry points in the building
- dark brown, oily discoloration near their entry site (vents, trim boards, the roof and chimneys)
- a constant scraping or scratching sound, most noticeable at night.
Eviction typically requires professional help. It is illegal to kill bats under federal law. Plus, you wouldn't want to harm the good guy, would you?
Lesson 1: Help Others, Help Yourself
Without bats to help us, the following might be true:
- West Nile Virus would run rampant
- There would be less rum and tequila to wash away our troubles, and
- We'd be forced to use more toxic pesticides on crops.
So, what helpful roles do bats play in all these things?
Bats Are Silent Superheroes of the Ecosystem
Bats are stealthy superheroes of the ecosystem. One of the most plentiful species of mammals in North America, bats represent about 20% of all classified mammal species in the world.3 Often, however, we don't realize bats are around to help us because they are nocturnal.
Bats provide these three key benefits to our ecosystem and economy:
- Insect consumption: Bats provide a "green" alternative to using toxic pesticides. Mosquitoes spread the West Nile Virus, while other pests can inflict billions of dollars in damage to agricultural crops. But the Bat Brigade comes to our rescue. One bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in one hour.4 A pregnant or lactating bat can consume her own weight in insects in a single night. In addition to mosquitoes, bats devour crop-damaging moths, cucumber and June beetles, stink bugs, and leafhoppers.
- Pollination of plants: It is often said that bees and birds take the day shift, whereas bats take the night shift. As many as 500 tropical plants rely on bats for pollination. For example: almonds, cocoa, cashews, dates and figs, bananas, peaches, mangoes, sugar cane (used to make rum), and agave (used to produce tequila).5
- Seed dispersal: Bats that consume seeds excrete them long distances from where they ate their meal. In this way, bats play an important role in reforesting areas that have been cleared or fragmented.6
So, what can humans learn from bats' helpfulness?
Fruit Bat's Notion of Nirvana
Benefits of Helping
Helping others and helping yourself are not mutually exclusive activities. Bats do both in order to survive, and so can you!
Research has found that helping and volunteering are associated with:
- increases in self-confidence7
- an enhanced immune system
- decreases in the intensity and awareness of physical pain
- lower stress levels, as cortisol, the "stress hormone" decreases and oxytocin, the "compassion hormone" is released8
- increased mood ("the helper's high"), with protection against mild to moderate depression and
- longer life expectancy, particularly with a decreased risk for heart disease.
When it comes to volunteering, do it because you are motivated by compassion for good. While you may not get paid money for your efforts, your rewards may be just as sweet. Some might call it karma!
Know Your Bat Facts
Bat Myths Debunked
MYTH: Bats are blind.
FACT: Most bats have vision that rivals a human's. Some bats, such as the fruit bat, can see remarkably well in low lighting, and they even see in color.
MYTH: Bats are filthy creatures.
FACT: Bats spend significant time grooming their hair to maintain its silky texture.
MYTH: Bats are flying mice.
FACT: Bats are not rodents. They are more related to primates than to mice.
MYTH: Vampire bats prey off human blood.
FACT: Only three out of more than 1,200 species of bats feed off blood -- spoonful-sized meals which they lap rather than suck, primarily from cattle or birds. Bats don't hunt down people.
MYTH: Bats visciously attack humans.
FACT: Bats are shy and intelligent. Like other wild animals, they want to be left alone but may bite in self-defense. Leave them alone.
MYTH: Bats try to "swoop" down on people and get tangled in their hair.
FACT: If a bat is swooping down near you, it's probably trying to catch a nearby mosquito.
Lesson 2: Collaborate for Success
Bats know the value of collaboration. They reside in groups, raise their pups in groups and hunt together, too. Bats are social animals and most often live together in colonies. These colonies typically range from just a few bats to thousands.
Bats rely on groups so much that the lone bat is most likely lost or confused. Their preferred dwellings are typically hot, dry, dark locations, such as in man-made structures. However, depending on the species, bats may also live in old dead trees, caves, dead palm fronds, or Spanish moss.9
We Are Family (All My Bat Buddies and Me)
The largest known colony of bats in the world is north of San Antonio, Texas, at Bracken Cave. It houses over 20 million bats. Bats have inhabited the cave for an estimated 10,000 years, and the area has become an ecotourist site.
Bats find it most effective to hunt in groups. At dusk, they exit their roosts and fan out over the landscape in search of insects. Amazingly, some swarms of bats are so massive that they are detectible on Doppler radar.11
During a single night, bats can:
- achieve speeds of up to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h)
- cover as far as 500 miles (800 km) and
- reach elevations as high as 10,000 feet (3 km) — all in their search for food.
Bats also benefit from raising their young in communal roosts. Female bats congregate in colonies called "maternity roosts."
Females of a roost typically give birth to their babies at the same general time. Each mother has an "only child," and the pups huddle together for warmth in crèches while the mothers are out foraging for food together.
Know When to Use Groups
For humans, groups are not always the best way to accomplish a task, however. Any employee who's been assigned to a work team knows that.
Whereas bats excel at collaboration, human groups often fail to reach their full potential. That's because group-based work involves:
- motivation losses, reductions in our levels of individual effort, as well as
- coordination losses, problems in efficiently combining the individual inputs of members.
We humans therefore need to know when to use groups and when to forsake them in favor of going it alone.
Deciding When a Group Should Perform the Work
When you are ready to assign work to either a group or a competent individual, stop and consider the things that make group-based work more effective:
- the task is sufficiently complex that it can be broken down into sub-tasks and assigned to various members
- the group is highly motivated to find the best solution (e.g., high risk situations involving consequences of grades, jobs, or possible loss of life).
- success on the task is determined by production volume as opposed to quality (i.e., every contribution helps, no matter how small). An example is scoring the most goals.
Next time you're faced with a collaboration conundrum remember these tips! Bats exploit the power of collaboration, and you can too—when circumstances are right.
"Ve Vill Have Cuddle Time, Yes?"
Lesson 3: Know Where You Are—The Value of Feedback
Even though they are most active under the cover of night, bats have an enviable ability to know where they are because of echolocation.
Through their mouths or noses, bats emit ultrasonic screeches that bounce off potential bug meals. Feedback from these sounds help bats navigate through the night air. Their echolocation is so well developed that it can detect objects as thin as a human hair.
So how do bats zap their insect prey that flit about so unpredictably? Using their super sonar abilities, bats estimate not only where the target is in relation to themselves but also where their insect targets will end up.
The winged hunters even take turns being quiet so they can listen to their bat leader. It's the equivalent of not everyone talking at the same time!9 That's certainly good advice for humans, too!
Seek Out Feedback
Think of bats' echolocation as a feedback seeking process. Bats emit sounds that in turn generate feedback from the environment, letting them know where they are relative to their food goals, insects.
Harnessing the power of feedback has benefits for humans in our goal-striving. In work settings, employees who are young, new in their job, or new with the company tend to seek the most feedback, or information about the correctness and adequacy of their behaviors.
However, feedback is an effective strategy for attaining goals. More of us should use it regularly in both personal and professional areas of our lives.
Research shows that seeking feedback
- reduces uncertainty
- improves skills and performance, and
- is related to more positive job attitudes, including job satisfaction, lower intention to leave the organization, and lower actual turnover.
Although you may be reluctant to seek out negative feedback, it can enhance perceptions about you and produce more accurate understandings of how other people view your work. What's not to love about that?
Facts About Bats
- The image of the Mexican free-tailed bat is the logo for Bacardi rum. According to Cuban and Spanish folklore, bats are symbols of good health, family unity, and good fortune.
- Depending on the species, bats live 5-30 years—a long time for an animal of their size.
- Vampire bats have strong family bonds. If something happens to a mother vampire bat, another female will often "adopt" the orphan -- the only type of bats known to do this.
- Vampire bats also share meals of blood among other members through regurgitation, as they can only live two days without such a meal.
- Less than 0.5% of bats have rabies. The threat of rabies is virtually zero if you do the following:
- vaccinate all family cats and dogs
- avoid contact with unfamiliar animals
- never touch wild animals; if it will allow you to touch it, it is likely sick.12
Know Your Bat Facts Poll
Which one of the following true statements about bats surprised you the MOST?
Millions of Bats: The World's Largest Known Bat Colony
- Bats consume insects and disperse and pollinate seeds. This provides residual benefits to us humans. Follow bats' helpful example by volunteering and helping others. In so doing, you may help yourself with psychological and physical health benefits as well as longer life span.
- Bats know the value of groups. They live, raise their young, and hunt in groups. You can harness the benefits of group-based work by knowing when to use groups and when to go it alone.
- Bats have built in sonar systems. Through echolocation, they seek information from the environment to achieve their goals. They also take turns "shushing" while others speak. Feedback seeking is an effective human goal seeking strategy.
- 1Bat Conservation International. "All About Bats - Intro." Last modified April 1, 2011. http://batcon.org/index.php/all-about-bats/intro-to-bats.html.
- 2Wikipedia. "Vampire bat." Last modified October 26, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire_bat.
- 3Bat Rescue. "Bat Facts." Links. Accessed October 29, 2013. http://www.batrescue.org/batfacts/batfacts.html.
- 4BestNest.com. "Benefits of Bats." Last modified 2013. http://www.bestnest.com/bestnest/lc/lc_bat_benefits.asp.
- 5University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources. "Bats Management Guidelines." Home Page - UC Statewide IPM Program. Last modified October, 2009. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74150.html.
- 6Bat Conservation International. "All About Bats - Intro." Last modified April 1, 2011. http://www.batcon.org/index.php/all-about-bats/intro-to-bats.html.
- 7UnitedHealthcare. "Discover the healthy benefits of helping others." Do Good Live Well - Home. Last modified 2013. http://www.uhc.com/health-and-wellness/family-health/healthy-benefits-of-helping-others.
- 8Barnett, Robert A. "19 Healthy Reasons To Help Others." The Huffington Post. Last modified July 28, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/28/health-benefits-of-volunteering-helping-others_n_909713.html#s316118title=Helpers_Live_Longer.
- 9Florida Bat Conservancy. "Florida Bat Habitat and Roosting Preferences." Florida Bat Conservancy Home Page. Last modified 2006. http://www.floridabats.org/bat-habitat.html.
- 11Wikipedia. "Bat." Last modified October 29, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bats.