Batman reflects his namesake in North Carolina
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Having the characteristics of a bat might not be useful unless you are Batman. You certainly would not want to be a “dingbat”, or “an old bat,” or “have bats in your belfry,” or “be blind as a bat.”
When Batman comics appeared in the 1940s, the hero took on some of the traits of the mammal of the Chiroptera order which means “hand-winged.” He was stealth and intelligent, worked in the dark, and was a friend to people.
An abundance of mystery and lore surrounds this creature which is so helpful to humanity. People are naturally suspicious of an animal that flies in the dark, sleeps upside-down, and has a menacing appearance. Classic tales like Dracula promoted the idea that bats were evil creatures.
Most bats eat insects, nectar, pollen, or fruit, but three species do require blood meals and are referred to as vampire bats. From that reality came the myth that bats like to bite people and often carry rabies. In North Carolina, you are much more likely to run into a raccoon, skunk, or fox that is rabid than a bat.
Of the 17 species that live in North Carolina, seven are endangered. Bat Cave in Henderson County is an unincorporated community which takes its name from an actual cave which is the largest granite fissure cave in North America.
The 300 by 85 foot cave is the home of the endangered Indiana bat and is owned by the Nature Conservancy which works to protect the animals. People are not allowed to enter the cave, and hiking near the cave is prohibited because bats have been greatly affected by white noise syndrome.
Bats which are nocturnal are not truly blind but like most mammals do have difficulty seeing in the dark. They use an internal radar system called echolocation to maneuver. By vocalizing clicks which bounce back to them from surfaces, the bats can determine where to fly.
One thousand species of bats make up one-fifth of all mammal species worldwide. They are the only mammals that have true sustained flight. Other animals, such as the flying squirrel, actually glide.
A colony of 1,000 bats can consume 22 pounds of insects in one night. One bat can eat 25 percent of its weight in one meal. That would equal about 36 pounds of food for a person weighing 150 pounds. They eat far more insects than purple martins, and are also helpful with pollination and seed distribution.
The small creatures are predators of the hornworm moth which can devastate tobacco crops in North Carolina. Peru is a major exporter of bat waist or guano, an extremely effective fertilizer because of its high nitrogen, phosphate and potassium content.
Like so many organisms today, bats are victims of the world’s population increase and other environmental factors. People can help by installing bat boxes around their homes and planting native species which attract insects for the bats to eat. Like Batman, they are not our enemies.