Thanks to Bat Conservation International for providing these bat facts! You can learn more if you visit their website: www.batcon.org
Bat Origins and Relatives:
- Bat fossils have been found that date back approximately 50 million years. Surprisingly, the bats of that ancient period very closely resembled those we know today.
- Bats are mammals, but such unique ones that scientists have placed them in a group of their own, the Chiroptera, which means “hand-wing.”
- All living bat species fit into one of two major groups, the Microchiroptera or the Megachiroptera. Members of the Megachiroptera are commonly referred to as flying foxes because of their foxlike faces. They are found only in the Old World tropics, while the Microchiroptera, which are highly varied in appearance, occur worldwide. Most scientists agree that bats are far more closely related to primates than to the rodents, to which they are often linked in the public mind.
- There are forty-seven kinds of bats living in the United States, representing four distinct groups, including the ghost-face, leaf-nosed, vesper and free-tailed bat families.
- Some people consider bats to be dangerous, though statistically speaking, having bats in the neighborhood is far safer than having dogs.
- Though they seem similar, bats and birds are not at all related. True, both bats and birds can fly, yet each group developed this ability independently.
How Bats Move Around in the Dark
- All bats can see, but some use a special sonar system called echolocation. These bats make high-frequency calls, either through their mouths or noses, and then listen for echoes to bounce from the objects in front of them. They are able to form pictures in their brains by listening to reflected sounds, just as we form pictures in our brains by interpreting reflected light with our eyes. In this way, bats are able to comfortably move around at night, avoiding predators, maneuvering around obstacles, locating their food, and capturing insects in total darkness.
Why Bats Hang Upside-Down
- Unlike the bodies of other animals, a bat’s body is best adapted for hanging upside-down. Its hind limbs have rotated 180 degrees so that its knees face backward. This rotation aids in the bat’s ability to navigate in flight and to hang by its feet. Bats actually have specialized tendons that hold their toes in place so that they are able to cling to their roosts without expending any energy. Hanging upside-down also provides bats with safe roosting places away from predators on the ceilings of caves, in trees, and in buildings that few other animals can use because they have not evolved to hang upside-down by their feet.
What Bats Eat
- Seventy percent of all the bats in the world eat insects, and many of them use echolocation to find food and move around in the dark. Small insectivorous bats can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects in one hour.
- Frugivorous bats living in tropical climates have very good eyesight and a highly developed sense of smell for finding ripe fruit to eat.
- In the desert, there are nectar-feeding bats that have long noses and tongues for harvesting nectar from flowers, as well as special enzymes for digesting the high-protein pollen that accumulates on their faces.
- A few bats are carnivorous. They have sharp claws and teeth for catching small vertebrates such as fish, frogs, birds, and rodents. Only three kinds of bats are vampires. They live in Latin America and eat only the blood of other animals.
Where Bats Live
- Not all bats spend their days roosting in caves. Some roost in trees, abandoned mines, buildings, bridges…the list goes on and on.
- Many bat populations are threatened because they have lost their specific roosting habitats. Scientists have studied the roosting requirements of a number of bat species in order to provide appropriate artificial homes. These homes, called bat houses, have proved very successful for some species if placed in appropriate locations.
How Large Bats Can Grow
- The largest bat living in the United States is the western mastiff bat (Eumops perotis), weighing approximately two ounces. It has a wingspan of nearly two feet. However, some bats in other parts of the world are much larger; the fruit-eating flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) has a wingspan of six feet! The smallest bat lives in Thailand and is called the bumblebee bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai). This insectivorous bat has a wingspan of only six inches and weighs less than a penny.