Because of their sophisticated systems of navigation and communication, bats--the only mammals that can fly--have been called the dolphins of the air. There are more than 900 species; 39 are found in the United States, 21 in California. The smallest species weighs less than a penny, the largest has a wingspan of six feet. Bats are one of nature's most beneficial animals, says biologist Merlin D. Tuttle, of the University of Texas at Austin. Our common brown bat, for example, has the ability to eat as many as 600 mosquitoes in an hour.
In China, bats are omens of good luck, but in many parts of the world people fear and try to destroy them. "Bats have the misfortune of being shy and active only at night," Tuttle says. "It is only natural that we fear animals that we can rarely see and understand easily." Encroachment upon the dwelling sites of bats, as is happening in the hillsides and rocky cliffs around Southern California, is also contributing to diminishing bat populations. In 1982, Tuttle founded Bat Conservation International to educate the public and governments about the value of these highly unusual creatures and to save them from extinction. To replenish the number of bats in their natural habitats, the organization offers a cedar bat house that can be hung in backyards where there is water close by and enough vegetation to attract insects. Seventeen inches high, 10 inches wide and 7 inches deep, it resembles a birdhouse, except that is has an open bottom and no holes on the sides. Send $29.95 (plus $2.75 shipping) to P.O. Box 162603, Austin, Tex. 78716; instructional materials included.