by M. Brock Fenton
I\’ve been reading this one off and on since Darkwing. It\’s a hefty coffee-table sized book with loads of great photographs and tons of interesting data. My copy came from a library sale and I can see why it was discarded- heavy water damage with warped pages which made handling it feel off– reading books can be such a tactile experience for me- and the page numbers don\’t match the index or cross-references- but that didn\’t dampen my enjoyment too much.
I did not realize how numerous and varied bats are until I read this book- over 900 species! Aside from all the basics like flight mechanism, diet, roosting habits, reproduction, conflicts with mankind and so forth, this book details the many differences and curiosities in the bat species. I always thought that most bats eat either insects or fruit, but it turns out that some eat leaves, or nectar, or small mammals, even other bats. There\’s a species that specializes in catching fish. And they\’re not all restricted to one type of food item, either- a few have a more varied diet, eating plant material and insects. There\’s the famous vampire bats too- only three species but how large in the human imagination- that chapter was pretty interesting. A lot of the information about how bats navigate and echolocate was fascinating, too. They use different frequencies to avoid interfering with each other\’s signals, or their own hearing. Some are actually audible to humans. Many bats make vocal noises too- squeaking at each other. While most are strictly nocturnal, lots of them have very good eyesight and use it. Their faces are so curious- flying foxes are my favorite, they look very endearing and familiar- but many have huge ears or fleshy flaps and extensions on their noses, or odd wrinkles that make them appear very alien. One that\’s really strange-looking is the ghost-faced bat. I think my favorite section was one of the last chapters in the book, about how different cultures perceive bats, with examples from ancient art and legends. Not all fear bats- Chinese symbols use bats to represent happiness and joy, and have names for them like \”embracing wings\” or \”fairy rat.\” A lot of this book is focused on providing information to show how intriguing, well-adapted and even vulnerable bats are, dispelling many myths people have of them so they can become protected instead of mistreated. It certainly taught me many new things. Don\’t ever handle a bat- yes the risk of rabies from a bite is real- but they needn\’t be feared and loathed as much as they are.
Rating: 4/5 224 pages, 1992 and 2001