MIDDLE SCHOOL BATS (5-8 graders)
***INSTRUCTOR'S NOTE: First and foremost, before anyone begins the study of bats, it must be remembered that no matter how tame or loveable bats look, they are WILD ANIMALS and must be treated in that manner. They should never be picked up or handled in any way. Since they are mammals, they CAN carry diseases that should be avoided by humans. They do not make good pets and having small bones and paper-thin wings, they are very fragile. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM HANDLING LIVE BATS IN ANY CLASSROOM SITUATION, LEAVE THAT TO THE PROFESSIONALS.***
Let us begin our discussion with dispelling many of the rumors that we hear about bats. This will help students become a little more at ease with studying these fascinating little creatures. (Instructors: feel free to put this information into any format that you feel fits your situation the best.)
1. Bats are blind, or many people say they are. This is one of the biggest myths surrounding bats. Most bats have fairly good eyesight, about the same as a human might have, and some tropical species actually will have much better eyesight. In most species of bats, we find a type of sonar called echolocation that they use in hunting and getting around during low-light conditions. This sonar is so fine that it can pick up a single human hair many, many yards away.
2. Many stories have been told over the years about bats flying into people's hair. For the most part, this simply doesn't happen. First, bats usually don't get that close to humans; secondly, bats do not like to be restricted by the hair; and finally, as mentioned above, the bat's echolocation techniques guide them around any human that might be in their way.
3. Bats have been called a "mouse with wings." They actually are in a class by themselves, Chiroptera, meaning "hand wing." In all actuality, that is exactly what they have. The wing itself resembles the human hand very closely but with elongated fingers. Over these fingers is stretched two very thin membranes of skin, so thin you can almost see through them. These membranes are what forms their wing, allowing them to fly. Bats are the only true flying mammal in the world.
4. Count Dracula always comes to mind when we think of bats. There are three species of bats that feed on blood, and appropriately enough are called vampire bats. They live in Central and South America. Bats around the world have a varied diet. They will eat leaves, fruit, nectar, fish, frogs, blood, and insects just to name a few. All the bats in Oklahoma and 70% of the bats worldwide are insect eaters. They will consume about 1/2 of their body weight each night in insects. A female with a baby (pup) will have to consume twice her body weight each night to survive. Depending upon the type of bat, they feed in many different terrains including forests, deserts, and around streams and ponds. Some bats leave their roost and feed continually until full, while others feed for several hours, rest for a while and then feed for another couple of hours. The bats will catch the desired insects in the mouth, wing, or tail membrane. They then transfer the meal to their mouths. The bat's ability to consume large amounts of insects, to consume over-ripened fruit, and to pollinate flowers and desert-dwelling plants make them very beneficial to the ecosystem.
5. In our culture, bats have been associated with evil since the beginning of time. Ancient man thought that they were a half mammal-half bird type animal and Native American tradition tells of a bird that wanted to be human but didn't quite make the transformation. Anytime you see wings of evil spirits, they are always bat wing designs, while angels possess bird-like wings, another example of the "evil" to which bats have been associated.
Other fun facts that can be worked into a classroom discussion:
1. B-A-T. The word itself can be bone chilling to some people, but it shouldn't be. Depending upon your perspective, bats can be very beautiful creatures. The names of some of the bats tell you quite a bit about their looks, physical description, or color. Names like Big Brown, Little Brown, Spotted, Big-eared, Long-nosed, Long-tongued, Free-tailed, and even a Naked Bat.
2. Bats are found everywhere in the world with the exception of the Polar Regions and some desert areas. In the world there are almost 1,000 species, in North America we find about 40, and in Oklahoma, 22. They range in size from the largest bats, the Flying Foxes of Indonesia (6-foot wingspan and weighing over 2 pounds) to the tiniest, the Bumblebee Bat from Thailand (weighing less than a penny and with a 6-inch wingspan-probably the smallest mammal on the earth).
3. Bats will roost in places that they feel are safe: houses, barns, trees, and of course in caves. The bats roost in many different ways. Some bats are considered solitary bats and will roost by themselves while other bats are social and will roost in clusters of 250-500 per square foot.
4. One of the drawbacks to being a bat is the slow reproduction rate. This makes them extremely vulnerable to extinction. Most bats will only have one baby per year. The babies are born very large, weighing almost 1/4 of their adult weight. They grow very quickly, being able to fly in about three weeks and will be self-sufficient in about three months.
5. The lifespan of a bat varies from species to species. Most bats live between 8 and 15 years, with some living up into their 30's. The bat has many natural predators. A good rule of thumb is that anything that might eat a mouse will also eat a bat: snakes, cats, dogs, raccoons, hawks, and even owls.
If you have any additional questions about bats and their habitat, please feel free to call the park @ 580.621.3381, check out the links listed below, or e-mail Professor Nature at his e-mail address.
1. Bats normally have to flap their wings 12-20 times per second to stay airborne. To illustrate this to the students, have them stand at an arms-distance apart, flap their arms up and down as many times as they can in 5 seconds (usually about 10-12 times in that 5 second period). You can then make the connection that a bat flaps its wings five to six times faster that they did.
2. To illustrate how close social bats get in their clusters, mark off an area two feet square with chalk, tape, etc. If you have 5-6 graders, stand 5 students in this square; if you have 7-8 graders, stand 4 students in the box. (This is about equal to 250 bats per square foot.) You might also point out to them that being this close produces heat, something that the bats will need in the spring as they come out of hibernation.
3. Bats in Oklahoma eat 1/2 their body weight a night in insects. To show the relationship between the bats dietary needs and a human's, you can do this simple demonstration. Either weigh a student or pick a student that knows his/her weight. Multiply that weight by 2. This is the number of Happy Meals that this student would have to eat EACH DAY to equal the amount of food that a bat would eat in the same time frame. If the bat happens to be a female with a pup, multiply the number of Happy Meals by 4 to get the number she would have to eat.
EXAMPLE: Students weight is 100 pounds. Multiply that by 2 (200 Happy Meals per day). For a female w/pup, multiply that number by 4 (200 X 4 = 800 Happy Meals per day).
4. Bats have a resting pulse rate of about 200 beats per minute. A human will have a resting pulse rate of about 80 beats per minute. When active, the bat's pulse rate can jump to 900 beats per minute, an increase of 450%. How does that compare to a human? To compare a bat's pulse rate to a human's, have the students check their pulse while they are relaxed. Do this by having them find their carotid pulse in their neck, just under their jaw. Have them count the number of beats while someone times 15 seconds. At the end of this time period, multiply the number of beats by 4. This will give them the number of beats per minute. Now, have them exercise in some manner (jumping jacks, etc.) for about a minute. Now check their pulse in the same manner as before. If the relationship with a bat and human are the same, the students pulse rate should be about 360 beats per minute (90 for the 15 second time period). They should be WELL BELOW that rate when the activity is done.