By Josh Booth
MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — The winged crusader swoops down from his ceiling perch in the cave and out into the night. He activates his sonar to steer his way through the darkness. Sensing the shape of a frequent culprit, he dives, then dispatches the foul beast, scooping it into his mouth.
This hero wears no mask. His identity is clear, but he does not receive the recognition he deserves.
But scientists, farmers and plants know: the bat is the real hero of the night.
Bats do all the things a true hero does: fight evil, aid the public and battle misunderstandings about what they do.
In a forest such as the Monteverde Cloud Forest, insects eat many plants. If not for bats, many plants would be overconsumed.
“Bats eat their body weight in insects every night,” said Fabio Aráya, a guide at the Bat Jungle in Monteverde.
Bats use their ears to echolocate the shapes of insects. They have a basket-like membrane between their legs to shovel up prey.
Bats also lend their services to control insects on farms. Without them, more pesticides would have to be used to control insects, Aráya said.
Bats aid plants in pollination, too. Certain bats have physical features specifically suited to eating from flowers. When they reach for nectar, they rub against plant parts that hold pollen. Then, they pollinate the next flowers they visit.
Bats have a strong social structure and help one another. They come to each other’s aid as family members would. They take care of one another’s young; one bat will babysit while other mothers go and get food.
Vampire bats help bats that are old or sick. The healthy bats take in more blood than usual, then come back to the others and regurgitate the blood to feed them.
For the general public, bats are not the heroes. They are portrayed in popular culture as the blood-sucking villains.
In reality, blood-sucking vampire bats don’t even kill their prey. Vampire bats bite the ears or feet of other animals, and it happens so fast that the animals don’t even know what happened.
Drug stores also make money on their false image of bats. They sell medicine to prevent rabies from bats, which really only kills a small number of people per year.
“In the U.S., one person dies per year of bites,” Aráya said.
From Costa Rica to the United States, bats are doing many good deeds. Although they are largely lost in a fog of myths and media, bats are actual heroes who play a very essential part in their ecosystems.