Not another Zubat?!

Today we hear from Jordi Segers, White-nose syndrome coordinator for the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, and self-proclaimed Pokémon geek!

Jordi Segers, Photo by Catherine J. Hibbard

The Pokémon franchise, which includes multiple game series, a cartoon series, a card trading game, and much more, has been immensely popular ever since it was first introduced to the world 20 years ago. In only a week's time, the new augmented reality game, Pokémon GO, has launched a worldwide hype of people of all ages taking to the outside world in search of their favourite Pokémon. Pokémon GO allows the Pokémon trainers to see these digital pocket monsters in the real world through their smart phones. Upon finding a Pokémon, a trainer swipes the screen to throw Poké Balls at the creature in an attempt to catch ‘em all and become the very best like no one ever was [Pokémon lingo].

Photo by Jordi Segers

Pokémon GO includes the original 151 Pokémon species, including the two bat Pokémon: Zubat and Golbat. Let’s take a look at some of the differences and similarities these creatures have with bats in the real world.


As blind as a Zubat
While Golbat has two large forward facing eyes, its earlier form, Zubat, has no eyes and relies on other senses to detect obstacles in its path. The saying "as blind as a bat" may be true for Zubat, but not for real bats. All species of bats have eyes and they can see pretty well with them, even in the dark.

Photo by Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative


Pokémon eggs
In the world of Pokémon, these creatures are born from an egg that hatches when the Pokémon trainer has carried it a certain distance. Real bats, however, are mammals and develop in their mother’s womb before getting born into the world. If you take a look at the wing of a bat, you can see the surprising similarities it has with your own hand (because we are also mammals). Like us, the bat has five fingers; their short thumb sticks out from the top, and the other four fingers are very long and thin and have the thin wing membranes inbetween.

Photos by Jordi Segers

Zubat and Golbat
The adventurous trainer that ventures out after dark stands a good chance of coming across a Zubat or its evolved form, Golbat. While the Pokémon GO world only has these two species of bats, our real world actually counts many more species. There are currently about 1300 different species of bats known worldwide, and researchers are constantly discovering more.


Supersonic attackPhoto by The Pokémon Company International
Pokémon are cute creatures, but don’t underestimate their powers. They are strong and can be trained to perform a number of powerful moves to defeat their enemies. Zubat and Golbat can use a supersonic attack that will confuse their opponent severely in battle. Many bats in the real world have a similar skill, although it serves a different purpose. These bats use echolocation to "see" in the dark. Echolocation is a form of bio sonar that is emitted by bats at a supersonic frequency (so high pitched that most humans cannot hear it). The bats listen to the echoes of these sounds and can form a mental picture of the obstacles and insect prey in their immediate surroundings.


Not another Zubat?!

Long-time Pokémon players are familiar with the frustration of walking into a virtual cave and encountering another Zubat every 5 steps they take. Within a week, Pokémon GO players have come to realize that this augmented reality game is no different. This has led to many frustrations for gamers too eager to move on in the game by being stopped by yet another Zubat, and it has generated many internet pages expressing these frustrations. Sadly, in many parts of North America the same cannot be said for real bats. Many species of hibernating bats in North America are infected with a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. This disease has decimated hibernating bat populations wherever it spread. An estimated 6.7 million bats had died in the first 6 years and this number is only growing. While digital Pokémon bats appear immune to this fungal disease, researchers are trying to find ways to help real bats survive, by understanding their immune systems and possibly treating bats with something that helps them fight off the disease.

Photo by Game Freak Inc. and The Pokémon Company InternationalZubat used bite, it’s super effective
Zubat and Golbat are flying/poison-type Pokémon. This makes their move set very effective against bug-type Pokémon. Bats are very similar to these Pokémon in that respect. Using their echolocation to detect insects and their hands for wings to fly with impeccable precision, bats are masters at catching night time insects. An individual bat can catch thousands of insects per night. They even save the agricultural sector billions of dollars a year by eating moths that can destroy crops. Venomoth and Butterfree are no match for Zubat. One may indeed say that bat’s moves are super effective against bugs.Photo by Game Freak Inc. and The Pokémon Company International


Gotta catch ‘em all
While it is alright to go out and use your Poké Balls to catch all the Zubats and Golbats that you want, it is very important to leave the real bats alone. Bats may swoop around you to catch the insects buzzing around your head, but they have no desire to catch you, similarly you should not try to catch a bat. Trained researchers, in their attempts to better understand bats, sometimes do catch them. Instead of Poké Balls they use contraptions called mist nets or harp traps. This allows them to monitor bat health and collect other important data that help them to fight threats like white-nose syndrome.


Playing Pokémon GO is a lot of fun but don’t forget to look up from your screen every now and then, you may be lucky enough to spot some real bats in the early evenings!Photo by Jordi Segers