With spring and summer fast approaching it is noticeable that there are more bats active in the evenings as they emerge from their winter hibernation. The reason for this is that the warming temperatures are making insects more active.
Bats are the largest represented order of mammals in the Kruger National Park with 46 different species. They belong to the order Chiroptera. The translation of this literally means ‘hand-wing’ and are the only mammals that are capable of true sustained flight. Bats occur in all sizes ranging from wingspans of 5 cm to the largest of nearly 2 metres! All the bats in the region are nocturnal as this eliminates most competition for food (most birds are diurnal or daytime animals). Bats are divided into two main groups, fruit-eating bats and insect-eating bats. They play an extremely vital role in the ecosystem and are responsible for managing insect populations as well as pollination of some fruits. An example of each is that a single large colony of insect-eating bats can consume as much as 100 tons of insects a year, thus controlling mosquito numbers, and one of Africa’s most iconic trees, the Baobab is pollinated by fruit bats.
The majority of bats use echolocation to search for food and the system is far more efficient than any man-made echolocation system. This does not mean that bats are blind at all, and some species actually have very good vision.
Bats reproduce as most mammals do and mating occurs in autumn, before hibernation. The male’s sperm is then stored in the female’s ovaries until ovulation and fertilization in the springtime.
Bats have unfortunately been painted as evil, bloodsucking monsters and this could not be further from the truth. They are fascinating to watch as they swoop, catching insects or fluttering around in the large fig trees that line the rivers. You might even hear our large epauletted bats pinging in the summer evenings!
First photo: Mauritian tomb bat (Taphozous mauritianus)
Second photo: Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat (Epomophorus wahlbergi)