Bats

We’ve had an abundance of rain in the past month in my area. As such, we have a lot of standing water. To make matters worse, I live near a lake, which often means there’s standing water nearby anyway (and that’s definitely the case here). This all adds up to mean a deluge of mosquitoes. Fortunately, there are also a lot of bats around here. But it isn’t all gum drops and soda. Sometimes having a lot of something means things will start showing up where you don’t want them to show up.

In the past two days, I’ve encountered three bats in my apartment. The first was dead. I’m not sure if a cat killed it or if it died naturally or if it was white nose syndrome (though there was no visible fungus). The second was among a series of shirts I have layed over a large change bottle. I got that guy downstairs before he decided to take a quick aerial tour of the area. I eventually got him out the door. The third one, which showed up tonight, almost victimized by the hungry mouths of several cats, decided to go for the extended stay with optional aerial tour of the living room. It was fascinating watching it flying back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. After waking some sleeping roommates, we got it sequestered in the sun room/porch. Unfortunately, there’s no light in that small room, so there was a lot of fast ducking and thrown blankets in response to the constant dives and erratic motions of the bat. With time and a little help from an empty Yahtzee box, we got it out one of the windows.

So, in honor of this story (which I don’t think is over – we have little idea of where these things are originating), I am reposting some bits from a Carl Zimmer piece on bats. Be sure to click “Bat in wind tunnel” and “Vampires running!” to watch the videos. For whatever reason, I cannot embed any better than that.

Bats evolved about 50 million years ago from squirrel-like ancestors. They probably made their first forays into the air as gliders. Like living gliders, they used flaps of skin to increase their surface area, letting them glide further. Their hands evolved long spindly fingers that were joined by membranes. Some early bat fossils suggest that they may have shifted from gliding to alternating between gliding and bursts of fluttering. Eventually bats evolved sustained powered flight.

Bats evolved a way to take advantage of the same laws of physics birds use to fly. And many scientists who have studied bat flight in the past have basically treated bats like leathery birds. Yet there’s no reason to assume that this should be so. After all, it would not be surprising to find that the way the feathers on a bird’s wing react to air pushing against them are different from the way the stretchy membranes on a bat react. Birds don’t have wing surfaces connecting their front and back legs, like bats do. And while birds only have a couple joints in their wing skeleton, such as at the elbow and wrists, bats have lots of knuckles they could, in theory, bend selectively to alter their wing surface. Bats also have lots of sensitive hair cells on their wings that appear to track the speed and direction of the air flow, and the information they get from the hairs may help them make fine adjustments to their wings many times a second.

Bat in wind tunnel from Carl Zimmer on Vimeo.

I think the creepiest thing about this whole event, other than the possible rabies, was the way I watched the third bat walk. It landed on the floor a couple times and crawled around a bit. I wish I could have had more light to really observe it.

Vampire running! from Carl Zimmer on Vimeo.

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