They save the farming industry millions of dollars each year, help sustain the world's forests and, in some countries, are a major tourist attraction. Bats - described as 'one of the planet's most misunderstood and persecuted mammals' - are now flying out of the night and into the spotlight for a two-year-long celebration.
Launching today, the UNEP-backed 'Year of the Bat' will promote conservation, research and education on the world's only flying mammals. There will be a special focus on the ecological benefits that bats provide, such as pest control and seed dispersal.
The joint campaign, led by the UN's Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS), will draw attention to the world's 1100 bat species - around half of which are currently at risk.
'Compared to animals like tigers and elephants, bats receive little positive attention,' says Andreas Streit, Executive Secretary of EUROBATS. 'But they are fascinating mammals and play an indispensable role in maintaining our environment.'
From insect-eating bats in Europe that provide important pest control to seed-dispersing bats in the tropics that help sustain rainforests, bats deliver vital ecosystem services across a wide range of environments.
Bat populations in large urban areas can consume up to 30,000 pounds of insects in a single night.
One of most spectacular and unusual tourist attractions in Austin, Texas is the Congress Bridge bat flight from mid-March until November, where over a million Mexican free-tailed bats stream into the sky at dusk on their nightly forage for food. A popular tourist attraction, the spectacular bat flight generates millions of dollars for the city each year.