Rodrigo Medellín: batting for bats

Bats may be reviled by many, but they are among nature's superhero species. Here's a man that can tell you why.

© Amy Cooper

If you’ve ever wanted to meet a real-life Batman, you won’t get much better than Rodrigo Medellín. This ecology professor has dedicated his life to saving bats, and has now made it his mission to change perceptions of these unfairly demonised little mammals.

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Bats are the unsung heroes of the natural world – many components of life that we take for granted would not exist without them. They disperse seeds, eat insect pests and pollinate plants, and it’s estimated that they’re worth at least $3.7 billion to US agriculture every year.

“We have ignored the plight of bats for far too long, yet life would not be the same without them,” Rodrigo says. “I want to revolutionise public attitudes to this unfairly treated group of creatures.”

Rodrigo starred in a 2014 Natural World film The Bat Man of Mexico.

6 astonishing facts about bats:

1

Bats sustain entire ecosystems.

For instance, the lesser long-nosed bat pollinates the saguaro cacti, in the Sonoran desert of Mexico and south-west USA, which is incapable of self-fertilisation. This plant is key to the whole Sonoran ecosystem.

2

Fruit-eating bats help regenerate fragmented rainforests

They distribute five times more seeds per square metre than birds and possibly accounting for 95 per cent of all forest regrowth.

3

No bats = no more tequila slammers!

It’s bats that pollinate agave plants, from which this popular drink derives. Bats also propagate 500 economically important night-flowering species.

4

Bats are nature’s crop defenders

They prey on the pests of cucumbers, corn, coffee and cotton. Each Texan night, a million-strong colony of Mexican free-tailed bats consumes the weight of 25 elephants in corn earworm moths.

5

Bats help to combat illness and disease

Some species of bat eat 600 mosquitoes an hour, serving as a natural control agent for malaria. And stroke patients are treated by an anticoagulant named Draculin, that was developed from vampire bat saliva.

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6

Bats attract tourists

Such as the straw-coloured bat roost in Kasanka National Park, Zambia, and Bracken Cave, Texas, home to an estimated 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats.