Bats have been greatly mystified, and much maligned. They are interesting, intelligent, likable, gentle, trainable and amazing. Bats make up almost a quarter of mammal species and come in an amazing diversity, ranging from the world’s smallest mammal the bumblebee bat of Thailand, which weighs a third less than a penny to giant flying folks with up to six-foot wingspan.
According to the world Atlas of birds, (1974), “During the six hundred-million-year history of life on earth, four life forms have forsaken their earth-bound ancestors and evolved the power of flight. First to fly were the insects, about 220 million years ago. Second, the flying reptiles. Third, the mammals i.e. the bats. Fourthly, the birds, whose first appearance is recorded in the fossil record about 150 million years ago. All other so-called flying creatures i.e. flying fish, tropical frogs, lizards, squirrels and snakes are capable only of partly controlled glides (i.e partial flight).
Among the flying creatures, bats are said to be the only mammals to have achieved powerful flight, in other words, they are the only mammals capable of true flight, and they differ from birds in having the whole hand adapted to support the wings. The bats form an isolated order with probably at least 2000 (two thousand) living species, more than in any other isolated order of living mammals except the rodents. (Chamber’s Encyclopaedia. Page 155).
The new universal library (page 140), says most species are nocturnal, and many are able to find their way among obstacles in the dark by a system of echo-location. During the day, bats congregate in caves and hollows of trees, and similar sheltered places, often in enormous numbers. All bats can see, but in most species, the eyes are small concealed by fur(hair) and useless in the dark.
In recent years, precisely, the year 2001, National Museum Benin, (NMB), has been harbouring bats of various sizes in the environment. National Museum Benin, which is located at the heart of Benin City, (Kings Square), has been before now, an institution rendering services of great importance to the society and aiding its development. “A museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing”, it has added to new functions to its roles, by accommodating one of the rare species known as the flying mammals (I.e the bats).
The questions that readily comes to mind about these flying mammals are; where were they at the establishment (or inception) of the National Museum Benin, where are they from and why are they here.
In an attempt to answer these questions, it may be possible as the name implies that these bats I.e the flying mammals might have not yet discovered a conducive environment like the National Museum, Benin, at its inception in 1973. More so, as the bats are in the category of the migrating species, we believe that they might have migrated from somewhere to the environment of the National Museum, Benin.
Before any settlement of any kind is created or made, there are some certain conditions that must be met by the settlers. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that the bats have come to settle in the National Museum, Benin, as a result of the conducive environment. For example, the present location of the museum in Benin city, still remains the only surviving green belt at the city centre, which encompasses some significant plants and big trees that produces various kinds of fruits e.g. mango trees, coconut trees, palm tree, almond trees, (popularly called the “ebelebo” tree in Benin language), whistling pine etc. Apart from this, the environment of the Benin museum contains beautiful flowers, medicinal plants and it is surrounded by various socio-cultural activities.
In terms of security, the National Museum, Benin environment is an ideal place for the bats because of its natural phenomenon, the museum itself has the protection of both natural and cultural heritage and these bats belong to natural aspect of the heritage.
However, as stated in Chamber’s Encyclopaedia, (1968), the primary distinguishing character of bats as a whole is the WING, which is very unique in comparison to that of other flying creatures found in the earth.
The WING is a double layer of a membrane of skin known as a patagium, extended between the body and the digits of the hand, the legs and frequently the tail.
The bones of the arm are slender and the ulna is reduced or rudimentary. The digits of the third to fifth fingers, and to a lesser extent of the second, are greatly elongated and extend the wing membrane. The first digit, the thumb, is free, short and clawed. A gristly rod, the calcar, springs from the ankle and helps to spread the membrane between legs and tail. The breast-bone has a median keel for the attachment of pectoral flight muscles. The leg is rotated outwards at the hip joint, so that the kneel bends backwards not forwards as in other mammals.
When the wings are open, they act as a cooling system and give out large amount of the excess heat produced in flight. The wings can be folded when not in use.
Most bats are insectivorous (about 70 percent). Many feed on fruits or nectar of flowers, and a few are carnivores (I.e about 3 percent), because they are blood-suckers or are vampire bats.
The objective of this paper is to identify the particular specie of the flying mammals in the National Museum, Benin, highlight the significance of the flying mammals in our environment and highlight the conservation of the flying mammals in national museum, Benin.
The key terms in this discourse are conservation and bats. They are defined as used in this paper in order to prevent ambiguity and misapplication.
Conservation is a complex concept and different words are used to explain the term conservation. These include, preservation, reconstruction, consolidation, care, protection, restoration, maintenance etc. Each has its own specific meaning. However, the overall aim is to prolong the life of the object. Thus, “conservation can be defined as everything we can do to prolong the life of an object, acting on the object itself or on its environment“.
Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary defines “Bat” as an animal like a mouse with wings that flies and feeds at night. Harver World Encyclopaedia (1973), defines bats as mammals because they are covered with fur (hair) and suckle their young ones, but unlike any other mammal, they are able to fly. Due to these characteristics of mammals they possess, they therefore form a well defined division known as the order- CHIROPTERA, which is the scientific name for bat (meaning hand- wings).
The order – chiroptera is divided into two suborder, that is Megachiroptera (the big or large bats), Microchiroptera (the small bats).
MEGACHIROPTERA: These are the large or big bats. Their wing spans vary from 10 inches to 5 feet (I.e 1.5 meters). Most of the Megachiroptera have dog-like faces and are often called flying foxes. They are sometimes also known as the fruit bats , although they are by no means all fruit eaters. They all have very large eyes, capable of superb night vision, and readily reflect light at night. Some examples of the Megachiropterainclude Nycteridae, pteropidae, and the fruit bats.
MICROCHIROPTERA: These are the small bats. Their wing spans vary from 6 inches to 3 feet. Most of the microchiropteraare often called insectivorous bats. They have generally poor eyesight although none of them is actually blind. They never posses a claw on the second digit, they usually have short snouts on which a variety of skin appendages may be developed and frequently have ear flaps of complex structure. The teeth usually have sharp cusps for crushing the hard parts of insects.
SPICES OF BATS
Some spices of the microchiroptera include molossinae,mormopinae, rhinolophidae, vespertilionidae, nycteridae, pteropidae, phyllostomidae, and the fruit bats.
MOLOSSINAE:These are small bats of tropical regions having long thick tails, short strong legs and large feet; unlike most bats, they can progress rapidly on the ground. (Dictionary of Zoology, page 231).
MORMOPINAE: These are small bats of the West Indies and central America having expanded leaf-like appendages on the chin and not on the nose as in some other bats. (_do_, page 233).
RHINOLOPHIDAE: These are small insectivorous bats with large ears and well-developed ‘nose-leaves’, found in most parts of the world. (_do_, page 327).
VESPERTILIONIDAE: These are small insectivorous bats without nasal appendages and with a long tail contained in the large inter_femoral membrane. They are found in almost all parts of the world. (_do_, page 394).
NYCTERIDAE: These are large- eared carnivorous bats of the tropics and sub-tropics having cutaneous appendages or nose leaves on the margins of the nostrils. (_do_, page 251).
PTEROPIDAE: These are large fruit-eating bats, some with a wing-span of up to 5 feet and usually without tails. They are found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. (_do_, page 314).
PHYLLOSTOMIDAE: These are bats of Central America and the west indies having nose leaves or cutaneous processes close to the nostrils. The group includes many genera, some fruit-eating, some insectivorous and some blood-sucking. (_do_,page 286).
THE FRUIT BATS: The fruit bats belong to the Megachiroptera suborder and the pteropidae (I.e the pteropus) family. They are the more primitive suborder and they are characterised by the long pointed snout, usual absence of the tail, the possession of a claw on the second digit of the hand and blunt cusps on the molar teeth.
Their diet is usually vegetable, in other words, they are exclusively vegetarians, feeding on fruits and flowers. Large numbers of these bats often roost together in trees during the day and descend in hordes on tress of ripe fruits at sunset. By night, they fly to their feeding grounds where crops of tree-blossom or fruits are available. The horde may travel fifty to a hundred miles for the night’s feed.
They sleep by day, hanging or suspended upside down from the branches of trees without any attempt at concealment, often in enormous numbers, so that a large area of forest is occupied by the “camp”. This specie is confined to the tropics; however some species in Australia make seasonal migrations, just like the specie in National Museum, Benin which migrates between the months of May and August I.e in summer. (Universal library, page 136) and returns back in the month of September.
Bats generally have one young per year. Only the red and hoary bats have two, three or even four young at a time. In non hibernating bats, breeding and ovulation are in the spring (i.e between March and June). In hibernating bats, pairing occurs in autumn (I.e between September and November), and the spring when fertilization occurs. The young clings to the mother’s fur (hair) for a few weeks and thereafter when the mother flies, it is left behind in the roost until weaned. (Encyclopaedia Americana, page 340).
SIGNIFICANCE OF BATS
The importance of these flying mammals cannot be over emphasised as they are numerous. These include economic, socio-cultural, traditional, political, medicinal and of course conservational significance.
These days, many people do not know that there is a lot of monetary gain in these flying mammals. For instance, in Benin City today, one average sized bat cost between #800 to #900. This implies that bat is a form of revenue yielding mammals either to the individual or the community. Its conservation will no doubt stimulate domestic demand for tourism and also develop our tourism products.
Socially, these bats are not only entertaining and refreshing, but they are also enlightening. You need to see how cooperative they are, either when they fly or when hanging. They move together and do things in common just like ants. Their meat is a very good source of protein for the development and growth of the human body. This social value will in no doubt create awareness about this species which have been neglected for decades.
The medicinal value of bats cannot be over emphasised, In Benin culture; it is used for medicine during pregnancy. The bat is burnt in a pot without water to ashes, and the powder is swallowed early in the morning before food. It is used for making anti-poison medicine, to counter the effect of poison within the human body. It is also used for the treatment of stomach pains in little babies between six months and one year old.
Culturally, bats are parts and parcel of our heritage, as they can be found in caves , rocks, trees, and important areas. Therefore, it has become a subject of study, which also emphasises the educational importance. For instance, in the world today, bats are well recognised to the extent that we have, “bat conservation associations”. Even in some countries, bats are studied as a subject, and are variously called different names in different cultures. For example, the Benin people call it OWO, the Yorubas call it ADAN, the Owan and Etsako people call it AKOGAN, while the Esan people calls it AKHAN-EWO.
Having seen the various significance of these bats, one will agree to the necessity of its conservation by the museum professionals. Since their staying maybe temporary, there is an urgent need for finding a suitable place for their abode within the premises, to be known as “bat Farm or house”. In addition to this, other species of bats like the insect eating bats and other natural species like birds could be introduced to the farm. This will go a long way in adding beauty to the museum in Benin. This will no doubt attract more tourists, researchers and other cultural stakeholders.
The produce of these bats like the excreta, is acidic and corrosive because they feed on fruits and when the excreta drop (or fall) on the ground, it helps to reduce the growth and survival of the sub-terrain termites that exist on the museum ground. If well researched by scientists, it can be used for the production of acids, which is greatly useful for conserving our cultural objects. Another conservation significance of these bats is that the excreta makes the soil fertile. However, the only disadvantage of these bats is that they are destructive to crops, and are directly harmful by damaging plantations.
It will be an overstatement to say that bat study has been completed, since research can never be exhaustive.
As earlier mentioned in this paper, there are over 2,000 species of bats in existence in the world today. This paper has only been able to identify a few of these species for study – the fruit bats in particular.
This work has been able to highlight the unique features and characteristics of the fruit bats, which before now were seen as a threat to the National Museum Benin premises. It is hoped that this work would give us a better orientation on the values, uses, importance, and the viability of these bats in our environment.
It is good to appreciate these bats as one of the wonderful creatures of the Almighty God. In 1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 4 of the Holy Bible (King James Version), it says “For every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving”. No wonder, in appreciating the handiwork of God, a song writer once wrote this song,
“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all”.
Therefore, its conservation as part of natural heritage should be put into the national agenda and programme of the study of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments.
- (1989):Published by Jehovah’s witnesses. Benin city 30000I, Edo State, Nigeria.
- Beazley, Mitchell.(1974): The world Atlas of birds; Mitchell Beazley Limited. London.
- Chamber’s Encyclopaedia. (1968): By International Learning Systems Corporation Limited.
- Encyclopaedia Americana, volume 3. (1958): Americana Corporation International Headquarters 575 Lexington Avenue. New York.
- Harver: World Encyclopaedia, volume 4, (1973): Harver Educational services, incorporated.
- Hornby, A.S, (2001): Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
- Leftwich, A.W, (1973): A Dictionary of Zoology constable and company Limited 10 orange Street, London.
- The new universal library, Volumes 2 and 6, (1968): By the Caxton Publishing Company. Pages 140 and 136.