Bats – man’s other best friend
There are more than a thousand species of bats. And they are quite amazing. Bats can fly to altitudes of 10,000 ft (3,000 metres) and travel up to 60 mph (100 km/h). They live up to ten years, with one, a male Brandt’s bat, documented as 41 years of age.
Bats are the world’s only true flying mammals – with a healthy appetite: a bat can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes or other insects in one hour. About 70% of bat species are insectivores. Most of the rest are frugivores – they eat fruit.
Although fruit bats mostly eat, obviously, fruit, they never suffer tooth decay from the sugar in the fruit. This led scientists to investigate the enzymes in the saliva of Panama Bats, for instance, for a possible cure for plaque disease in humans.
Three bat species prefer blood. They are vampire bats. They only live in Central and South America and Mexico.
Viruses from bats
Bats do carry rabies and can infect animals and even people. In fact, bats host a diverse array of viruses, including coronaviruses, filoviruses, lyssaviruses, paramyxoviruses, SARS-CoV, Marburg virus, Nipah virus, and Hendra virus. Moreover, bats are the source of more dangerous viruses than any other mammal, particularly zoonotic viruses – the viruses that can spread from animals to humans. In addition, bats are reservoirs of severe emerging infectious diseases.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic of 2020 originated from horseshoe bats from caves near Nanning, Guangxi, China, infected people in Wuhan, China – see indepth story of the origin – and then rapidly spread worldwide.
The bats’ own super immunity to these viruses – there are thought to be more than 5,000 strains of the coronovirus – probably also hold the keys to the cures for the deadly viruses.
Asian bats have been identified as potential reservoir hosts of coronaviruses associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV). We detected antibody reactive with SARS-CoV antigen in 47 (6.7%) of 705 bat serum specimens comprising 26 species collected in Africa; thus, African bats may harbor agents related to putative group 4 CoV.– Abstract from National Center for Biotechnology Information article Coronavirus Antibodies in African Bat Species, September 2007.
It is already known that the saliva of some bat species contains an enzyme that stops blood clotting and could save the life of stroke victims.
So, while bats may be hosts of terrible diseases it is mainly because of carelessness by humans that cause the spread of these diseases but ultimately the two together will provide the cures and prevent millions of people from dying unnecessarily. Bats may just turn out to be man’s other best friend.
Interestingly, bats almost always bank left when they leave their caves.