What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a bat? The dead rise again, bats fly, terror strikes, and screams again at night- the only thing that comes to our mind on Halloween.
Ever since the dawn of civilization, bats have been considered a bad omen in myths because they exist from the dinosaur age, and we are conditioned to associate spooky images or ghostly environment with the only flying mammal on earth especially during Covid-19.
To prevent this misconception, one needs to know what consists of a bats diet and deconstruct the notion that bats are evils.
Approximately, there are more than 1300 bat species, so it is obvious they are all not the same. Some frugivores eat natural products, seeds, and dust from blossoms. Vampire bats feed on vertebrates and blood but never prey on humans, unlike what we know from Vampire Diaries.
Although it is unpopular, the truth is most of the bats are essentially insectivores. They consume insects equivalent to 1/3 of their body weight which makes it the largest consumer of insects annually.
Do bats eat mosquitoes? Yes, bats do eat a lot of mosquitoes but it does not constitute a large part of their diet as they most likely prefer other insects and they cannot be used as mosquito breeding control. Mosquitoes likewise don’t offer enough calories to meet the vitality needs of the bigger bats.
Mosquito breeding grounds become widely available for bats at night instead of terricolous insects. Perhaps that is the reason why we commonly think bats prefer eating mosquitoes but what lacks is the interrogation of its causes.
How do bats eat mosquitoes?
Bats echolocate, by transmitting sound waves from their mouth or nose (the process is known as echolocation).
Mosquitoes are accessible everywhere and any time especially at night in the dark so they become easy prey. They do eat up to 6000-8000 insects including mosquitoes every night or other mosquito-sized insects if available.
Myotis (little brown bats) are well known for eating a lot of mosquitoes overnight in a neighborhood. The bumblebee bat in Thailand (world’s smallest mammal) is still immune to the sting of mosquitoes and heavily feeds on it.
They are observed in trapping the mosquito with their wing or tail membranes and bends down to eat it.
Their appetite certainly makes our backyards more comfortable. We get to live in a safer and disease-free environment because of bats.
One can also think of making bat houses in their yard to keep it mozzie- free. After knowing this, I don’t think you’ll like to name a bat “flying-rats” as they turn out to be more harmless and useful than any other being.
Can bats be used for mosquito control on a large scale?
The answer is No. Every species of bats eat according to their region, availability of biodiversity, and their individual needs. Just like specific human exigency, bats have their preferences.
Therefore, 1300 species of bats cannot be categorized in one behavioral pattern.
Moreover, research has also shown echolocation works poorly with mosquitoes compared to other insects. If given an option, bats would rather prey on beetles and moths than mosquitoes.
Now, what led to the misconception that bats like mosquitoes over other insects?
In 1960, D.R. Griffin, F.A. Webster, and C.R. Michael published their study, “The Echolocation of Flying Insects by Bats” in the journal Animal Behavior.
The motivation behind this experiment was to test and watch the echolocation of brown bats. A considerable lot of ideas about what number of mosquitoes bats eat appear to be founded on a logical report from this study.
In this study, bats were discharged into a bound space in a research center with vast quantities of Culex Quinquefaciatus (tropical or southern) mosquitoes and observed for the time being.
The research was primarily to trace the echolocation process and document it rather than following the consumption propensities of bats.
The study showed bats could eat ten mosquitoes in a minute in a controlled environment. This became a mendacious reality for people who assumed the experiment was designed to see what bats eat and not how they hunt.
Nevertheless, this experiment was deeply flawed because the bats were given no choice of food and were conducted on one type of species. This does not mean that they would still consume mosquitoes once they were outside the lab.
A similar study was likewise conducted on little earthy colored bats to check the DNA of bat fecal material, where they were convinced that mosquitoes make an eating regimen for most of the bats.
Many critics have refuted this experiment and questioned the validity because small bats are compelled to consume negligible insects like mosquitoes, and the place of observation was surrounded by mosquito breeding grounds.
Therefore, that cannot possibly be a rational explanation for the diet of all the bats around the world.
Although many bats only eat only aerial insects because this action takes place with lightning-fast speed.
They usually use their tails and pierce their sting to capture the prey and then stop and consume it. We surely cannot generalize that all bats eat mosquitoes, and they can be used to control mosquito breeding.
There are 1300 species of bats, and mammals are designed to have different behavioral patterns concerning environment and resources. They eat mosquitoes based on the availability of other insects and their level of starvation.
In 1920, a project was introduced in San Antonio, Texas, for malarial mosquito control. They found bats often preyed on all insects except mosquitoes, and the breeding grounds remained unaffected.
Researches over the years had shown that mosquitoes did not have a behavioral change when devices mimicked bat sound.
This proves that through natural selection, bats are not designed to eat mosquitoes specifically. In winters, despite the existence of mosquitoes, bats have evolved to hibernate or migrate to save energy and drink only water since there is a shortage of food.
They wait till the weather warms up, and a variety of insects are back to satisfy their nutritional needs. The in-charge of the Florida Mosquito Control Association, Shelley Redovan, stated in an interview that the state has tried using bats to control mosquitoes but have mailed miserably.
A medical entomologist, Joe Conlon, who partnered with American Mosquito Control Association, has shown that bats are poor predators of mosquitoes and often prefer moths or beetles if available in the existing neighborhood.
He also said that bats would die out of starvation if only fed mosquitoes as it contains less than 1% of their nourishment.
Why do we save bats (the evil-looking creatures)?
Even though bats cannot be used just to control mosquito breeding, it would be naïve for us to ignore the fact that they eat up to 8000 insects every night.
Therefore, it is extremely important to conserve bats and protect them. Else, there will be an overpopulation of insects which will further affect our agriculture and cultivate the spread of multiple diseases.
Existing chemical pesticides create more problems than they solve. When the reproduction of predators of mosquitoes is threatened like bats, the resistance of these mosquitoes increases eventually harming the environmental, economical and holistic human welfare.
There has not been enough study or research allowance on the relation of bats with mosquito control. The University of Wisconsin in the journal of Mammalogy has clearly stated the urgent need to study bats as there might be ample ways bats can help us to sustain our ecology.
Bat colonies are usually found near water bodies, one can also grow night-scented flowers, which attracts night-flying insects like moths to invite them in the vicinity.