Why Bats Aren't So Scary After All | KERA News

Why Bats Aren't So Scary After All

Oct 31, 2016

Austin is home to a colony of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge. On Think, Krys Boyd talked with Mike Ryan, professor of integrative biology at UT-Austin, and UT graduate student May Dixon about how bats navigate and communicate, and about the many misconceptions that haunt the flying mammal.

The KERA Interview

May Dixon on: 

… bats being scary:

“Bats get along remarkably well. In fact, some bat species are models for animal friendship. The scariest bat species you can think of, the vampire bat, is currently being studied as a model for friendship. Because even though they seem very scary, they have good friends that they’ll groom one another, and if that one bat is starving they’ll share its food.”   

… the danger of vampire bats:

“They will not kill you. These things are all of, gosh, they’re probably about 15 grams. They’re tiny. They could fit in the palm of your hand. And they really don’t want to eat from humans. Their preferred food is cattle, and even in a night they can only take about a tablespoon of blood from anything.”

… how bats use echolocation:

“Bats can use sound like hearing, and they send out very high-frequency bursts of sound from the larynx, and those bounce off objects and go back to them. They can interpret those sounds that return like we can probably interpret vision. They can tell the distance, the textures of things, the direction that they’re going and a lot of other cool information.”

Mike Ryan on:

… myths about bats:

“They don’t see as well as we do, and it depends on the species. There’s this large group of bats called fruit bats, those are Old World bats. They don’t use echolocation. They have very large eyes. They look like big puppy dogs. So, they rely on sight more than the other bats, the echolocating bats. The echolocating bats probably don’t see as well we do, but certainly ‘blind as a bat’ is a misnomer, because all bats can see.”