We think we are such hotshots. Without bats, where would we be? Lunch as we know it would be greatly diminished. Tequila would vanish. And domestic ease would shortly follow it, if I had to live without chocolate.
Here is Ed's latest All Things Natural article: BANANAS FOR BATS
Sink your teeth into a banana. Savor the sweet, soft flesh. Now is a good time to think about bats. Together, bats and tall leafy plants worked in concert over a vast stretch of time to invent the long yellow fruits we enjoy.
Yes, we'd have no bananas without bats, or at least banana plants. Bats pollinated the original wild ones, but commercially grown bananas require no such services. Without bats, other food plants might not exist, too, or exist in such diminished quantity that market forces would push up their costs. We are all beholden to bats, whose wings are really their hands.
There would be no Tequila Sunrises in a world without bats. Bats are chief pollinators of the agave plants whose fermented floral parts give rise to the alcoholic drink.
While the bats in our part of North America specialize in catching bugs, it's those bats of warmers parts of the world that serve plants as pollinators and seed-dispersers. In addition, their droppings, or guano, are sometimes used to enrich soil, and more remarkably, to produce saltpeter, an essential ingredient of gunpowder.
If you're a plant and you want to attract flying animals as big as miniature dogs to pollinate your flowers and to carry away your fruit, it's in your best interests to be sturdy and large. A great many plants that have such relationships with bats are trees or tree-like, and their flowers tend to be big, too. Flowers pollinated by hummingbirds are brightly colored and trumpet-shaped, at least for the most part. Flowers pollinated by flying foxes are often white or blandly colored and shaped like bells or dinner plates. They tend to radiate a strong sweet or musky smell suggestive of overripe fruit.
Bats are widely credited on bat-related websites with the pollination or distribution of the seeds of chocolate, almonds, cashews, figs, and allspice. But the bat scientists who wrote me say this isn't true. This serves as a reminder that that facts can be slippery, and we must be careful where we get them. It also goes to show that while scientists are doing an extraordinary job of learning about bats, they're keeping most of the information to themselves and not sharing it effectively with we who pay their salaries.
Remember when Ronald Reagan cried, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" I say, Tear down the barriers of arcane and thorny language that separate science from the rest of us, and let's have a free and democratic exchange of learning and ideas.
P.S. I am both glad and sad to report that Ed's richly illustrated hardcover The World of John Burroughs, while out of print, can be purchased for .33 cents on Amazon. To quote Ed regarding Nobel Prize winner Patrick White's forgotten books—"the fate of great literature these days."