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Saturday, May 1, 2021

B a t s [yes bats] come flying to Triplicane


Decades ago, we  saw famous batsmen  using and endorsing  bats like Slazenger, G&M, Grey Nicholls, SG, SS, BDM  and the like….. now you see bats without brand name explicit but advertiser’s logo prominent !! (in between those days there were ‘oiled /non-oiled bats’) ~ for a change this is no post on Cricket but on bats !!

We have seen them on some old temples, I have seen them at Thavana uthsava bungalow gori !!  - the  Egmore Museum does not just house priceless artefacts from the past. It also houses colonies of fruit bats in the trees outside, as a plaque informed the  visitors those days.  This season I am seeing them come with a buzz around 615 – 630 pm – close to hundred – they fly with unerring precision from nowhere and hang on the Arasa maram [peepal tree] at Vasavi Parthas, Venkatrangam Street, Triplicane, Chennai 600005.

When we think of bats, an unfavorable image often comes to mind. Whether it's the scary portrayal of them in vampire films and literature or a general fear of how their real-life counterparts might transmit viruses, bats have gotten a bad rap that's actually more fiction than fact.  Understand that there are more than 1,400 bat species in the world ! Bats can be as large as a small dog or as small as a bee. The ones that come nearer home resemble crows !! The largest bats are the flying foxes with wingspans of up to 2 metres and a body weights of up to 1.5 kilograms.

Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera. With their forelimbs adapted as wings, they are the only mammals capable of true and sustained flight. Bats are more manoeuvrable than birds, flying with their very long spread-out digits covered with a thin membrane or patagium.  The second largest order of mammals after rodents, bats comprise about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide.   A few species feed on animals other than insects; for example, the vampire bats feed on blood. Most bats are nocturnal, and many roost in caves or other refuges; Bats are present throughout the world, with the exception of extremely cold regions. They are important in their ecosystems for pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds; many tropical plants depend entirely on bats for these services. Megabats constitute the family Pteropodidae of the order Chiroptera (bats). They are also called fruit bats —flying foxes.  

For centuries, bats have been called sinister and spooky, likely because of their beady eyes and razor-sharp fangs. But there’s more to these nocturnal creatures than meets the eyes.  The scientific name for bats Chiroptera,  is Greek for “hand wing.” That’s because bats have four long fingers and a thumb, each connected to the next by a thin layer of skin.  To navigate dark caves and hunt after dark, microbats rely on echolocation, a system that allows them to locate objects using sound waves. They echolocate by making a high-pitched sound that travels until it hits an object and bounces back to them. This echo tells them an object’s size and how far away it is.

The age-old question of upside down bats. Yes, it is awfully weird that there is an animal—a mammal even—that hangs upside down. Sure, some monkeys do it when they're just monkeying around. Bats are the only animals that actually spend most of their time hanging upside down: feeding this way, raising their young this way, and, yes, sleeping or roosting this way. Bats are not birds, nor are they insects.   The difference between bat flight and bird or insect flight is weight—specifically, the ratio of weight to lift-capacity of the wings.  Birds have hollow bones; bats don’t.  To compensate for the extra weight that mammals must have, to compensate for the problem of getting off the ground, evolution found another way for bats to transition from being motionless to immediately being able to fly when necessary.  

Back home in Chennai -   the grove behind the Egmore  museum's Bronze Gallery has been home to more than 2,000 Indian flying foxes (a species of fruit bat), and  in 2012 a board was put up stating the significance of the area. The plaque stated there are 49 species of fauna on the premises that support the fruit bat. This information was based on a World Wildlife Fund survey , which also studied the trees (in this case tamarind, copper pod and sapota) where they make their home.

Though they are reportedly harmless, they are scary and in the twilight – crows do appear agitated, when these bats start homing in to the peepal tree.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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