| Story by Meghan McMahon |
Bats are one of the most feared and despised animals on Earth, right up there with snakes and spiders. Most people have never come in contact with one, and they’d do just about anything to keep it that way.
Despite the trepidation many people feel toward bats, they play a crucial role in the world, one that is critical to our own survival.
“Globally, bats play a very significant role in our environment,” said Juanita Armstrong-Ullberg, natural resource land manager for the Forest Preserve District. “Over 500 tree and plant species rely on bats for pollination, including mangos, bananas, figs, agave and cocoa.”
In total, eight bat species can be found in northern Illinois: big brown bats, little brown bats, northern long-eared bats, evening bats, eastern red bats, hoary bats, silver-haired bats and tricolored bats, which were previously known as pipistrelle bats. And while our local bats are not pollinators — insects and small birds primarily perform this duty here — they are still a useful part of our ecosystem.
Both here and around the world, many bat species eat insects, which helps limit crop pests and also mosquito populations, Armstrong-Ullberg explained.
“Bats’ diets vary by species, but we know that most species in our area feed on mosquitoes,” she said. “The little brown bat is the mosquito specialist and can eat up to 3,000 mosquitoes a night.”
Other bat species in our area have different dietary preferences, with eastern red bats eating moths and big brown bats eating hard-bodied insects such as beetles and corn earworms, she said.
Despite this usefulness both locally and globally, bats remain misunderstood, subject to many myths and much misinformation. Let’s set the record straight by taking a look at some of the more well-known bat myths.