Bats are the only flying mammals. Flying squirrels only glide.
The order that bats are in is called “Chiroptera,” meaning hand-wing. The bat wing structure is similar to a human hand. There are 4 long “fingers” with thin skin stretched between them. The thumb is small, has a nail on it, and is useful for crawling, grooming, and holding onto food.
There are 1,105 different species of bats in the world, making up about a quarter of all mammal species. There are 45 different species of bats that live in the United States and Canada. Most bat species live in the tropical regions of the world.
Mega-Bats are large bats found in the “old-world” tropical rainforests (Australia, Asia, and Africa). These bats are also called flying foxes. They have large eyes, small ears, large bodies, and have a dog-like face. They either eat fruit or drink nectar from flowers.
Micro-Bats are small bats found all over the world. They have large ears, small eyes, small bodies, and use echolocation, or radar, to find their food. They eat a wide range of food.
Most bats are colonial. They often live in dead trees, caves, bat houses, human buildings, rock crevices, and the underside of bridges. Some bats are solitary, mainly living in live trees.
The biggest bat in the world is the Malayan flying fox found in Asia. It weighs about 2 pounds and has a wingspan of about 6 feet. This bat eats only fruit.
The smallest bat in the world is the Kitty’s hog-nosed bat (also called the bumblebee bat). It is found in Thailand and weighs about 2 grams (that’s how much a dime weighs). It has a 6-inch wingspan.
Most bats in the North America eat insects. As a matter of fact, one bat eats about 2,000 to 6,000 insects each night. Many of the insects they eat include agricultural crop pests including the tomato horned worm, corn earworm, and many kinds of beetles. Bats also eat annoying insects like flies, mosquitoes, and gnats.
Bats that drink nectar are important pollinators of the organ pipe cactus and saguaro cactus in the United States. They are also pollinators of cash crops including mango, cashew, balsa, agave, and bananas.
Fruit bats around the world are important seed dispersers in the tropical rainforest. They are considered a “keystone species,” meaning that without them, many other plants and animals in the same ecosystem would be adversely affected.
Bats eat a wide variety of food, including insects, fruit, nectar, fish, frogs, rodents, lizards, birds, and blood.
There are three species of vampire bats. They live in southern Mexico, Central America, and South America. Vampires are small bats that drink blood from cows, goats, pigs, and chickens. They have an anticoagulant in their saliva that keeps the blood flowing as long as they are licking.
Vampires are small bats that usually drink a tablespoon’s worth of blood per feeding. Vampires are very social animals and even have been known to feed sick or elderly bats.
Some species of bats have been detected flying over 50 miles per hour. Other species have been detected flying over 3,000 feet above ground in search of insect prey.
Bats usually have one baby once a year. Some bats commonly have twins. A few bats have been know to have 3, 4, 5 babies at one time. Tropical fruit bats usually have 1 baby twice a year. Bat babies typically weigh about 25% of an adult at birth.
The oldest bat fossil (found in Wyoming, USA) is estimated to be 52 million years old.
Bats live a very long time. Most bats live between 10 and 20 years. Some bats typically live to 30 years old. The oldest known bat was recently recaptured in Europe at 41 years old.
When winter comes, some bats migrate to warmer climates. Other bats find a cave or mine to spend the winter. Hibernation allows them to avoid freezing temperatures. During hibernation, a bat’s heart pumps about 11 beats a minute. In contrast, when bats are awake and flying, their heart pumps over 1,000 beats a minute.
Bats form the largest groups of mammals in the world. Bracken Cave (Texas) houses a colony of about 25 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Congress Avenue bridge (Austin, Texas) accommodates the largest congregation of bats in an urban setting: almost 1 million bats.
Bats cannot stand upright due to a very small pelvic girdle. They hang upside down nearly all the time. Blood does not rush to their head because they do not weigh enough for gravity to affect their circulation.
About half of all the bat species in the world are either threatened or endangered. This is due primarily to habitat destruction, pollution, and human persecution. Some bat species are illegally hunted and sold for meat in Africa and Asia.
Bat houses can give bats a much needed home. Many bats live in human buildings because their natural habitat is no longer available. Bat houses should be mounted at least 12 to 15 feet off the ground, and facing an open, sunny location. They work best if placed on a pole, side of building, or tall mature tree with a lot of trunk space.
Very few bats contract rabies. Over the last 50 years, less than 40 people have gotten rabies from a wild bat. Scientific studies have shown that less than 1% of wild bats test positive for rabies. Nation-wide, about 5% of bats sent to state laboratories test positive for rabies. This number is higher because sick individuals are more likely to be caught and turned in for testing. Most colonies from buildings contain no rabid individuals. If people come in contact with a bat, they should contact their family physician or health department for advice regarding testing and treatment. Pets should be vaccinated against rabies to ensure their safety from wild mammals.