ME: You know how
they emit these really high-frequency sounds to help them find things in the
dark? Turns out that not only do they
catch bugs in mid-air, but they can tell from the way the sound bounces off the
bug whether it’s the kind of bug they like to eat or not. They take about ten
snapshots a second of what’s around them, just using sound.
SCOTT: How do we
know that bats can tell what kind of bug it is?
ME: You can actually
train bats to do little tricks in exchange for mealworms. In the laboratory you can put them on a
perch and train them to pick one object over another in exchange for food—like
a soft thing versus a hard thing, a big thing versus a little thing—and once
they’re trained to do that, it’s pretty easy to do tests to see how accurately
they can distinguish between one bug and another.
SCOTT: Won’t they
bite you if you put them on a little perch in a laboratory?
ME: Yeah. Joe Szewczak—that’s the guy at HSU—says he
gets bitten all the time. It’s not a
big deal, though—you just have to get a rabies shot. But actually, bats don’t really have very high rates of
rabies. Natural populations of bats are
less prone to rabies than other mammals like skunks. And it’s not like they go
after people and bite them. They just
fly around at night and eat bugs. If a bat ever comes near you, it’s probably
because you’ve got a lot of bugs swarming around you.
SCOTT: I’ll remember
that next time I’m outside at night in a swarm of bugs.
ME: And when bats
SCOTT: Yes, how do
bats have sex?
ME: Oh, I didn’t ask
SCOTT: You didn’t ask?
ME: It’s none of our
business how they have sex. But back to the babies. Bats, being mammals, give birth to live pups that are about half
the size of an adult bat. It’s like
having a 50-pound baby. And do you know what the mothers feed them?
SCOTT: Bat milk?
right. They nurse them until they’re
about six weeks old and they can fly around and eat bugs on their own. And in one species of bat, the males can
actually lactate, too.
SCOTT: The bat-men
make bat milk?
ME: Amazing, huh? Bats don’t make nests, they just find warm places to roost. You can put up a bat house for them, but
they would rather stay in an attic or under the eaves of a roof. But they know the bat house is out there,
and they’ll move into it if they need to.
SCOTT: We are not
getting bats, if that’s where you’re going with this.
ME: Well, they’re
very small, and there’s plenty of room up in the attic.
SCOTT: I think this
concludes the fun facts portion of our evening. And if I go upstairs and find bats hanging upside down from our
Christmas decorations, I’m going to know who let them in. If bats need a place to stay, they’re sleeping with the chickens, not us.