The Temple City also houses the world’s largest bat, Indian flying fox and India’s smallest bat, butterfly bat
Many a story has been woven around bats. In old wives’ tales and modern cinema, these nocturnal mammals are portrayed as harbingers of bad luck.
In fact, they are our unsung good friends, with a rich social life and senses that we fail to comprehend.
P. Kumarasamy, Associate Professor of Zoology, The American College, is known as the ‘Batman of Madurai’ among his friends.
He says bats protect the environment, balance the ecosystem, and pollinate flowers. Now he is concentrating on the little-studied subject of bats and their immune system.
Kumarasamy is ready to catch the students young and enlist them in the task of conservation of bats. He has prepared slides and materials that unravel the bright side of their dark world to school children. He says, “People hate bats because of the baseless myths that have been passed on from generation to generation.”
“With at least 109 species, India has an incredible diversity of bats. This includes one of the largest in the world, the Indian flying fox. It can be spotted in hillocks around Madurai, especially in Alagarkoil and Nagamalai,” he says. “Madurai is home for 36 species including 32 insect-eating bats.”
Kumarasamy first came into contact with bats when he volunteered to photograph them for a university professor who was doing research on bats. Slowly, he developed a love for these mammals.
When his shot of a bat preying on a frog was published in a German magazine, his interest multiplied. Soon, he began his own research on bats.
He says bats can keep pests in check. Seventy per cent of bats feed on insects and that makes them a natural pest control system.
“On an average, a single bat on a single night eats 3000 insects,” he says.
“They eat mosquitoes and beetles and plant pests.”
Bats are a vital link in the food chain especially in tropical forest eco system and act as pollinators and seed dispersers.
Fruit bats propagate many tree species by spreading the seeds more efficiently than birds. Birds scatter seeds only around the trees but bats scatter them over vast areas by means of their droppings. “Hence bats are called key-stone species,” he says.
“Bats digest and defecate rapidly,” explains Kumarasamy. “They disperse enormous amounts of seeds. Some bats feed on nectar and pollinate flowers that bloom during night time.”
Kinds of bats
Bats are of two kinds, fruit bats and insect-eating bats. Fruit-eating bats have larger eyes, a tubular nose and shorter ears, while insect-eating bats have small eyes, a leaf-like nose and radar-like ears.
All insect-eating bats produce sounds humans cannot hear.
The frequencies of the signals are between 20 and 300 khz (frequencies up to 16 khz are audible to human ears).
“After emitting sound the bat waits for the echo, from which it forms an audio mental image of its environment,” says Kumarasamy.
“Sadly, bats are categorized as vermin in the Wildlife Protection Act – and this makes them more vulnerable,” he says. “We need to protect them.”
People have a tendency to kill bats, and when aged trees are cut, fruit-eating bats lose their habitats. Kumarasamy suggests that we provide bat houses to help increase bat populations.
“A bat house constructed in the University of Florida campus houses more than 1.8 million bats,” he says. “Imagine the amount of obnoxious insects they feed on.”
“Most bats give birth to only a single pup each year, making them very vulnerable to extinction. Bats are the slowest reproducing mammals on earth for their size,” says Kumarasamy.
Why do bats hang upside down? Are they blind? Kumarasamy has answers to these and many more questions. Educational institutions can contact him at 94431-64242 to organize free awareness programmes for children on bats and their battle for life.