Top 10 Facts About Bats
Cave dwellers? Vampires in disguise? A superhero symbol? How much do you really know about bats?
Here are ten facts about bats that are sure to add to your knowledge.
1. Twenty-five percent of all mammals are bats.
There are roughly 1100 known species of bats all over the world. That makes roughly a quarter of all the species of mammals in existence. That means if you put all the mammals into groups of four, one of each group would be a bat. In fact, among mammals, only rodents — rats, mice and squirrels — have more species. Bats might look a bit like rodents, but the truth is they are more closely related to primates — apes, monkeys and lemurs, and humans!
There are two main types of bats — megabats and microbats. Most of the megabats are large bats, hence their name, though there are also some small megabats. Megabats eat mostly fruit, or nectar from flowers, which makes them important pollinators and seed dispersers. By going from one flower to another, they help the flowers produce fruit in the same way that bees and hummingbirds do. And when they eat fruit, they drop the seeds which grow into new trees.
Microbats, on the other hand, eat mostly insects. Some species also eat fish, small birds and lizards.
2. The largest bats are known as flying foxes, and the smallest as bumblebees.
Ever heard of flying foxes? Well, they’re not actually foxes. They’re bats, the largest bats of all. Some of the largest bats include the giant golden-crowned flying fox which has a wingspan of nearly 6 feet (1.8 meters), the great flying fox which weighs over 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms), the large flying fox from Southeast Asia and the Indian flying fox. They are called flying foxes because they look like foxes, having small ears and large eyes.
The smallest bat is the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, also known as the bumblebee bat, probably because, with its wings closed, it is just about the size of a bumblebee, just a little over 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) long and weighing less than a penny. Even with its wings spread, it is still small, having only a 6-inch (15-centimeter) wingspan. Some scientists believe it is the smallest mammal in the world.
3. Bats are the only flying mammals.
Everyone knows that bats can fly, but did you know that they are the only mammals that are able to fly? Sure, flying squirrels can be seen up in the air, but they don’t really fly. They actually glide from tree to tree, by stretching out their fur.
How do bats fly? A bat’s wings are actually its hands, which is why the name of the order of bats is called Chiroptera, from the Greek words kheir (“hand”) and pteron (“wing”). In between the bat’s fingers is a thin membrane of skin, and by moving their fingers, bats can take off into the air and stay there for long periods of time. This hand-like structure of the bat’s wing, along with the fact that most of its flight muscles are attached to its shoulders instead of its rib cage, give the bat great control over its wings, making it an even more efficient flyer than a bird.
Bats can fly fast, too — up to 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour. That makes them even faster than owls. If they were cars on the highway, they would be going over the speed limit!
4. Most bats use echolocation to find food.
What do bats and whales have in common? Apart from the fact that they’re both mammals, they both use a special method to find food, or simply to find their way in the dark. It’s called echolocation.
Echolocation is a process which starts when the bat produces sounds through its nose. Never heard a noisy bat? That’s because the sounds a bat produces are very high-pitched, too high for us humans to hear. These sounds are more like beeps or clicks, and the bat can make up to twenty of them in a single second. Afterward, the bat waits to listen to the echo of these sounds. The frequency of the echo, as well as the time it takes for the sound to echo, tells the bat a lot of things, such as where the nearest tree is or where an insect might be hiding.
5. Bats eat a lot… but don’t get fat.
Bats spend most of the night looking for food and then eating it. And boy, do they eat a lot. A single brown bat can eat more than a thousand mosquitoes in an hour. A vampire bat can drink an ounce (28 grams) of blood in 20 minutes — that’s more than its body weight. Many bats eat up to twice their body weight in one night. Yet, have you ever seen a fat bat? Of course, not. If a bat was fat, it wouldn’t be able to fly. Indeed, bats have a fast metabolism, which means they can quickly convert their food into energy. They can digest just about everything they eat in 20 minutes or less. That’s short, considering we humans can take up to 3 days to digest a meal.
6. Bats have only one pup a year.
Baby bats are called pups, and an adult female bat can only have one per year. Why is this so strange? Small animals like mice usually have a lot of babies, litters of them, and even small birds lay several eggs a year. And yet bats have just one pup, two at most on rare occasions. This is because the mother has to keep flying and looking for food even when she is pregnant. She also has to carry her pup on her back after it is born, because it is too tiny to fly. The mother can only carry so much. If she had three or four pups, she wouldn’t be able to fly, then she would end up dying.
A female bat can be pregnant for up to 6 months, delaying the birth until food is abundant. After the pup is born it feeds on milk, like other mammals. When it is strong enough to hang upside down by itself, the mother leaves it, bringing it food. Once it reaches its full size, it flies off to hunt on its own.
7. Bats live a long time.
Here’s another thing about small animals. They usually do not live long. Most insects live for a few weeks or months, some for just a day or two. A mouse can live about 3 years, the same for a house sparrow. And yet, bats can live for up to 20 or 30 years — longer than dogs. Why? Scientists have discovered that bats have a robust immune system and are able to withstand a number of infections. Bats may carry certain diseases, but they themselves are not affected by them. Also, scientists believe that flying helps bats to stay healthy, which proves what we already know — that regular exercise can do wonders for your health.
8. Bats like to keep themselves clean.
Think bats are dirty and disgusting? Think again. Bats like to groom themselves, just about as much as cats do. They lick themselves thoroughly to keep themselves clean, all while hanging upside down.
And just in case you’re wondering, bats don’t poop on themselves. When they poop, they go upright for just a few seconds and then hang upside down again. And by the way, bat poop is considered valuable, since it is a very effective fertilizer.
9. Not all bats live in caves.
You’ve seen it on TV — hundreds of bats hanging upside down in caves, with glowing eyes, flying off in a frenzy when disturbed. Indeed, many bats do sleep in dark caves during the day and some even hibernate in them for months. However, not all bats sleep in caves. Some sleep in trees, others inside abandoned houses and buildings. Still others have more peculiar roosts. The Hardwicke’s woolly bat, for example, roosts in the leaves of pitcher plants, which protect it. Other woolly bats hide behind spider webs. And the Honduran white bat actually builds a tent out of leaves!
10. Some bats have weird-looking faces.
Most will agree that bats are not among nature’s cutest creatures. Some of them are downright hideous, in fact, or startling to look at. Just try looking at the horseshoe bat, which has its nose shaped like a horseshoe, the wrinkle-faced bat, which has wrinkles, of course, and the tube-nosed fruit bat, which has tube-shaped nostrils sticking out of its face. Then there’s the visored bat, which has bulging eyes and a horn hovering over its nose, the hammer-headed bat with its enormous head and split chin (though only the males are ugly), and the Griffin’s leaf-nosed bat, which has a face that doesn’t really look like a face. Why all the weird looks? These bizarre features actually help the bats with their echolocation, so the uglier they are, the more efficient they might just be in hunting and navigating through the darkness.
The YouTube video playlist below contains videos about Bats. Details of the videos featured are underneath.
See video footage of Vampire Bats here