Aug 12 2015

God Loves Bats

SC bats 2It is very tempting to pay attention to nature only when you can see it. After all, this blog is even called “Seeing Creation.” Even the writers of the Bible mainly refer to what they could see. But if we are to believe that God had a part in our world, then we can’t ignore parts of our world that we don’t know so well. We need to think what is right for God, not what is right for us. In the Bible, there is no mention of things like bacteria, other micro-organisms … or bats. We can understand the lack of mention of micro-organisms – no one knew about them when the Bible was written. However, bats were (and are) important parts of the ecosystems of the Middle East. There is a mention of bats in Leviticus (11:19), but Biblical scholars are not all in agreement that the Bible here actually refers to bats.

Bats are creatures of the night. They are highly adapted to feeding on insects, and there are a great deal of insects that come out at night. As God’s creatures, they are truly remarkable animals. But because they are sort of “invisible”, we often forget about them and neglect this amazing part of God’s creation. There is no question that bats are hard to see (if they come out late at night, as some do, you might not see them at all), are rarely heard by humans (mostly their calls are above our hearing), and there is little common photography of them, as compared to, say, birds or other mammals. Speaking of mammals, bat species account for almost a fourth of all mammal species.

SC bats 3The idea of bats as evil or bad does not come from the Bible or God. It largely comes from old superstitions from the past. Night used to be a terror-filled time. For most of civilized time, night light was not available except for fires. Candles, then oil-filled lanterns started to illuminate the dark, but still, their light was limited. Today, all you have to do is fly over a city at night and you will find out how bright our nights have become.

A few remarkable things about bats:

  • Bats can “see” in the dark through echolocation that can discern things as small as the human hair. Imagine having a fish finder that could show you things underwater in that detail!
  • Bats can locate a small flying insect in total darkness, track it while moving in three dimensions while the prey is also moving in three dimensions, then catch and eat it. If you consider these two things alone, you can see that there is no bat that is going to swoop down and get tangled in your hair!
  • If a bat gets trapped in a house, it will typically fly to high points in a room and rest there. Then when it takes off, it will drop to gain flight speed and will head toward the middle of the room because that is where there is space. This can be frightening to someone standing in the middle of the room, and they might think the bat is after them, but the bat has no interest in them. Usually opening a window will let them out, but you can also catch them gently in a towel or a bucket (come up from below because they will be dropping as they start to fly). Never hurt a bat with a tennis racket! Their lives are as important as any other simply because God cares for them. Never handle a bat with bare hands, especially if the bat seems lethargic or sick (they could have rabies – bats are like all mammals, they get rabies, but they are less of a problem than raccoons or skunks).
  • Because they are small and fly, bats have a very high metabolism. They eat a lot! They will typically eat 1/3-1/2 their body weight in insects every day.
  • Bats are more closely related to primates, and humans, than to rats and mice (bats are not rodents). Bats have long lives for animals their size (some species live over 30 years), and most bats only have one baby per mother.

I think the lesson here is that God’s world does not depend on us always seeing it or fully understanding it for it to be remarkable and amazing when we do learn more. It is enough to know that God knows what He is doing.

SC bats 1

– Rob

Apr 29 2015

Bats and God’s Universe

Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, TexasWe’ve all heard the saying, “God moves in a mysterious way.” This is from an old hymn written in 1773 by William Cowper. A well-known author, pastor and theologian from the last century, J. Vernon McGee, put it in a different way, “This is God’s universe and he does things his way. Now, you may have a better way of doing things, but you don’t have a universe.”

Keep that in mind for a moment and let’s look at bats. I have become fascinated by these little creatures. I have photographed them just a few times, but I hope to do more.

Bats are not flying mice or rodents. They are their own group called chiropterans. Bats are hugely varied in different types and species. In fact, almost a quarter of all mammals are bats.

As a group, bats eat a huge range of food. Most people know they eat insects, and a large portion of bats do. But different species eat fruit, nectar, and all kinds of animals from frogs to fish to even scorpions and much more. But even the insect eaters specialize in different ways of eating. Some catch insects on the fly, which we all know. But some work from perches to catch larger insects. Others flutter through trees and along the ground and pick off their prey from branches and rocks. As you can probably guess, this means bats come in all sizes, from the tiny bumblebee bat of SE Asia that is a little over an inch long and weighs less than an ounce to the big flying fox fruit bats of Australia that have a wingspan of nearly six feet and weigh over three pounds.

Even the bats that catch insects are different. Some fly high over vegetation to catch insects there, others work dense woods to find insects there, and still others change the times at night that they fly in order to catch certain insects.

Bats fly differently, too, which makes sense when you think about their variety of size and food. Some fly slowly and do a lot of fluttering. Some are speedy fliers who zoom through the air. Others have the ability to hover and fly through the tight spaces of a tree while chasing insects. Each bat flying style means that bats have different sizes of wings in relation to their bodies, from long and tapered to short and rounded.

Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, TexasWe all know about bats in caves, but that is not all bats, and some bats only use caves to hibernate. Bats like the Mexican freetailed bat will use bridges, which is what is seen in the photos here from Austin, Texas. Many bats roost in trees – fruit bats of Africa will fill a large tree as they roost there. Different species of bats in North America will use old woodpecker holes, openings in trees from dead branches, spaces under loose bark, and even hang from branches looking like a bunch of dead leaves. There are bats in the tropics that will find insect holes in bamboo and roost inside the bamboo. There are even bats there that will chew the central stem of a palm large leave so that it folds over like a tent and roost there.

Some thoughts about their amazing echolocation skills: Bats put out high pitched sounds that we cannot hear. This bounces off prey like a fish finder bounces off fish hidden in waters below. With these echolocation skills, some bats can discern things as small as a human hair. This does not mean bats cannot see, however. Bats can see just fine, and some have extremely good eyesight to enable them to find specialized prey. And they do not get into people’s hair!

To me, all of this and more is absolutely amazing. I really had no idea, and I think that is true of most people. After all, bats are mostly out at night and spend much of the day hidden away.

Austin, TX batsYet God is fully aware of bats and who they are, even if we aren’t. What an incredible Creator to have made bats with such diversity that they can use the night in many different ways to adapt to food and life at that time.

Sometimes I have heard people say that they do not understand why a certain animal exists, or maybe worse, they consider life they don’t know to be unimportant. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God made life only FOR man. Genesis talks about creation as an act of God apart from man and that God saw it was all good.

This is indeed God’s world and we share it with all of his creations, including bats. Just knowing what amazing life God has created and allowed, apart from man, says a lot about how important it all is, and why it is all worth caring for.

– Rob