October 26, 2020
Debunking the Bat’s Bad Rap
WHY THIS ENDURING SYMBOL OF?SPOOKY?SEASON??
Considering everything 2020 has?thrown at us thus far, Halloween?shouldn’t seem all that scary this year.?It is, however,?the perfect?time to shine a spotlight on one of the animal kingdom’s most misunderstood members: the?humble bat. These fascinating flying?mammals?have gotten quite the bad rap?over the years, mostly due to poor representation in popular culture.?Today, with?some helpful facts from our amazing Tropical Discovery keepers, we’ll?take this opportunity to set things right.
Creatures of the Night
Long before Edward and Bella—or Lestat and Louis, for you old folks—were nibbling on one another’s necks, vampires have?been?enchanting?the public with their?universal?immortal appeal.?Vampire folklore?reaches?back millennia, populating myths across Mesopotamian?and?Hebrew?as well as ancient Greek and Roman culture with demonic entities and blood-sucking spirits.?Likewise, bats, as creatures of the night, had long been associated with witchcraft in European tradition.
But it wasn’t until Bram Stoker published?Dracula, in 1897,?that bats were linked to vampires for the first time—a connection forever cemented by the iconic 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi. The?one-two?media punch?of a best-selling book followed by a popular film?simultaneously increased the world’s fascination with vampires?and?fed powerful misconceptions about their animal familiars.???
No Reason for Fright?
In reality, there are about 1,200 species of bat—about 20% of all the mammals on the planet—and?only three of them?actually drink blood.?In general, bats are docile creatures that are an important part of the ecosystems that support them.?Around 70% are?insectivores; the other 30% are frugivorous. All?of the 18 bat?species native to Colorado are insect eaters;?one species, the little brown bat, can catch and eat up to 10 mosquitos in less than a minute!?To recap: bats are actually?ridding?your world of blood-suckers.??
Bats at Denver Zoo
If you’ve never visited Denver Zoo’s bat caves, you’ll find them near the entrance to Tropical Discovery. We house three species within?our?two caves, most of which are?Seba’s short-tailed bats.?Weighing in at a little over an ounce,?these tiny mammals are native?Central and South America.?Like all?frugivores, Seba’s short-tailed bats play an important role?in their native ecosystems?as pollinators and seed dispersers—ingesting thousands of?fruit?seeds each night,?and spreading them throughout the forest.??
Seba’s short-tailed bats are a social species, usually roosting in caves or hollow trees in groups of 10–100.?In fact,?Denver Zoo’s bats are SO social?that ongoing breeding can make it difficult to get an accurate count of our colony. Recently, our keepers were?filming?the?bats as they enjoyed their meal of fresh melon when?they noticed something unusual: a pure-white figure among the fast-moving brown bodies.?
Meet Shikaka, the White Bat?
Initially, we believed?Shikaka?might have albinism,?an absence of melanin:?the protein that gives skin, feathers, hair and eyes their color.?Albino animals are typically pure white with red eyes.?Leucism, by contrast,?is a partial loss of pigmentation;?leucistic?animals can either be pure white or have?patchy coloration,?but their eyes are not typically affected.?Shikaka’s?dark eyes make?our little Halloween angel?a likely candidate for leucism.??
Bottom line:?White bats are?extremely rare, and we?were thrilled to find one in our midst.?See if you can spot?Shikaka—named for the great white bat in?Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls—during your next visit to Denver Zoo.?And while you’re here, try to picture all the beautiful flowers, plants and fruits?that the world’s 1,200 bat species are propagating...along with all the mosquito bites they're?preventing.?
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