Apology to the flittermice

Resolved: I must swear off calling people “batshit insane,” for my chief bat informant — who doubles as my acting deputy chief correspondent for western South Dakota — won’t have it. Vespertilio Antiqua, as she signs herself, thinks bats are being libelled, slandered, and smeared. Frankly, I should have agreed with her from the start, for in my experience — which has included sharing an office with them — I have found the Chiropterians to be not only blameless but upstanding (well, downstanding in their case) — polite, considerate, and while flighty, always impressively so.

Only a very few vampire bats give their whole order a bad name; so that even while jungle-camping in hottest tropical Americas, gentle reader is unlikely to be bothered by one. For the rest, they should not be criticized if they are unwillingly infected, or attacked by thoughtless parasites. Nor should other species complain that they are carriers of disease; for this would hardly be a problem if the bats were left alone.

As I learnt in Lawrence Gardens, across the street from me when I was a little lad in Lahore, bats are much like us. Their chatter is decipherable when anyone is listening, and as computer analyses were always certain to show. They have many dialects, and their speech is not mere declarations, as we (no doubt falsely) assume of most animals. Rather their conversation is addressed specifically to their neighbours.

According to researchers in the Tel Aviv university (in the latest study done with algorithms), Egyptian fruit bats are easy to translate. They review food, and argue about portions over dinner; they give each other fruit and insect-finding tips. When roosting they upbraid those who may be jabbing them, or otherwise huddling too close. The females take a “me-too” attitude towards unwanted sexual advances. They use baby talk with their juniors, and different tones with their contemporaries, ranging from subservient to smug. Like most species, they hang together when threatened, but when not they squeak as proud individuals. They know who, among predator species, are particularly mean to them; and I suspect, when to shut up.

Their skin-wings, which some might think could be aesthetically improved by feathers, make them more manoeuvrable than any kind of bird, and the tiniest can be mistaken for moths. You’d need a pretty quick stop-action camera, to appreciate some of their aerial tricks. To turn on a dime is hard enough for quadrupedes (quadrupedi?), but to do it while airborne is spectacular.

Neither this Dakotan correspondent, nor I, have any idea how the current epidemic was launched from the Wuhan coronavirus lab, but we doubt that the bats — from Yunnan caves or wherever — played any voluntary part in it. Given what the Chinese Communists do to Uighers, Falun Gong, and Christians, I hate to think what they do to bats.

My own allusions to bat guano were unfair. It makes an excellent fertilizer, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — to say nothing of the micronutrients.┬áVerily, I regret comparing bats to Democrats, or other loathsome progressive fools. They didn’t deserve it, and I take it all back.