Consider the Bat

Bat thinking 02

It seemed to me that as I thought about bats and their connection to nature and people, it is easy to talk about bats, all the cool things about them, once you know about them. That is a good thing and with the right amount of enthusiasm. But something seemed to be missing, something important. Especially if you don’t know about them.

There is no question that bats are hard to know. Bats come out of nowhere in the night. We don’t see them until they hit some light. We mostly can’t hear them. They move rapidly from place to place because they can fly. They stay hidden when they are not flying. They a even hard to photograph, and in our world today, if people don’t see something in photographs, often that something does not exist for them.

Yet they are hugely important to our world. They are a major night predator of insects — they are a key part of many ecosystems because of that plus they are a very important predator of agricultural pests. Other bats are extremely important for plant pollination — it isn’t just the bees that pollinate. Some bats are even vital to spreading seeds and helping regenerate forests.

As a whole, though, we don’t know them well. Nature lovers will know all about the life of location, but they will miss the bats. Even scientists are only beginning to understand bats — they are hard to study for the same reasons they are hard for any of us to know them.

Certainly there is a lot of knowledge that is missing about bats, but that comes when we recognize some other things as being missing first. Bats make up one-fourth of all mammals, yet they are missing from many nature guides, or at most are a minor part of them (not coming close to representing their importance or their presence).

A big thing that is missing is an understanding of the actual presence of bats in nature and our world. To explain this, I need to use an analogy. My daughter played soccer from age five through college, so my wife and I got to know soccer very well. There a four key regions of players on a soccer field: goalkeeping, defense, midfield and forward attack. Suppose then that you wanted to understand a soccer game and how a soccer team played, but you could only know about the goalkeepers, defenders and forwards. You knew that there was something called the “midfield”, but it was just some group of players you really couldn’t see. That would make the game confusing and startling at times. You would have a very incomplete understanding of the game and would need to know moe in order to really understand,

Or suppose we look at a boat as distinct segments: motor, propeller, hull, rudder, gas tank, seats, and so on. Now imagine knowing that all you know of a hull is that you only get glimpses of it. Riding a boat would become a mysterious, strange process and you might not even trust that you would stay afloat. To feel really comfortable in that boat, you would want at least a clear view of the hull and a feel for its importance.

That sort of thing, the missing midfield or hull, is similar to bats. We know they are there, sort of, but they represent a big gap in a full understanding of nature and the world. Our view of nature is incomplete.