Bats may be considered a spooky Halloween mascot, but they are actually one of the most beneficial animals on the planet: 70% of the world’s bat species feed on insects – and one bat can consume up to 1,000 insect pests in an hour. Bats also play a critical role in pollination and seed dispersal.
Despite the fact that bats occur nearly everywhere on earth (except for arctic and desert extremes), 60 species of bats are listed as endangered. And in the U.S., an estimated million or more hibernating bats of six species have been killed by White-nose Syndrome (WNS) in nine states since 2006.
To help raise awareness for bats, here is a compilation of 10 facts about bats – and a diverse photo gallery of bat species celebrating the surprising cuteness of these creatures.
Bat fact 1: Bats are the only mammal capable of true flight.
Other mammals may glide, but bats actually fly. The elongated fingers of the bat’s wing are anatomically similar to the human hand.
Pictured: Grey-headed flying fox
Bat fact 2: Bats’ knees face backwards.
The position of bats’ knees aids in the bat’s ability to navigate in flight and to hang by its feet. Bats cling to their roosts without expending energy, using specialized tendons that hold their toes in place. In order to let go of the roosting surface, bats must flex their toe muscles.
Pictured: Greater horseshoe bat
Image: .flickr.com/sanmartin/ / CC BY-SA 2.0
Bat fact 3: Bats are not rodents – and are actually related to primates.
Bats are not even closely related to rodents. Although a shrew-like ancestor is shared by bats and primates, bats belong to their own group, the Chiroptera, which means “hand-wing”.
Bat fact 4: Vampire bats do not suck blood; they simply lap it up like a dog or cat drinking water.
Vampire bats feed almost exclusively on blood, mainly from cattle, horses, and wild mammals. To access its food, a vampire bat uses its teeth to pierce the skin of an animal while it sleeps and consumes just two tablespoons of blood. Vampire bats rarely bite humans, although a blood anticoagulant found in vampire bat saliva is being tested to help treat stroke victims.
Pictured: Vampire bat
Bat fact 5: Bats keep themselves extremely clean.
Fastidious bats will groom themselves – and sometimes other bats – for hours.
Pictured: Brown long-eared bat
Image: flickr.com/sanmartin/ / CC BY-SA 2.0
Bat fact 6: Although they have relatively good eyesight, insectivorous Microchiroptera (microbats) use echolocation to find prey and avoid objects and predators in the darkness.
Bats create sounds using their mouth or nose, and when the sound hits an object, an echo bounces back to the bat. Using echolocation, a bat can detect and avoid an object no wider than a piece of thread.
Pictured: Endangered gray bat
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Bat fact 7: Megachiroptera (megabats) such as flying foxes do not use echolocation.
Flying foxes – a group of Old World bats found in Australia, Africa, and Asia – find their diet of ripe fruit using eyesight and an excellent sense of smell.
Pictured: Spectacled flying fox
Image: flickr.com/shekgraham/ / CC BY 2.0
Bat fact 8: Bats have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years.
The lifespan of a bat is the longest for any mammal of their size.
Pictured: Endangered Indiana bat
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Bat fact 9: Most bat species produce just one offspring per year.
Their slow reproductive rate makes bats especially vulnerable to extinction. A baby bat is called a “pup”.
Bat fact 10: There are over 1,100 species of bats in the world.
Bats comprise nearly 25% of all mammal species. More than 50% of the 45 bat species in the U.S. are in decline – and 8 species are endangered.
Pictured: Endangered lesser long-nosed bat (left) and Mexican long-tongued bat (right)
Bats in peril: White-nose Syndrome (WNS)
One of the most urgent issues facing bats in the U.S. is White-nose Syndrome. This devastating disease is wiping out bat populations at an alarming rate, putting several bat species at risk of extinction. According to biologists, White-nose Syndrome has caused “the most precipitous wildlife decline in the past century in North America”.
While they are in the hibernacula, affected bats often have white fungus on their muzzles and other parts of their bodies. They may have low body fat. These bats often move to cold parts of the hibernacula, fly during the day and during cold winter weather when the insects they feed upon are not available, and exhibit other uncharacteristic behavior.
Despite the continuing search to find the source of this condition by numerous laboratories and state and federal biologists, the cause of the bat deaths remains unknown. Recent identification of a cold-loving fungus could be a step toward an answer.
Bat Conservation International warns that WNS has spread beyond the Northeastern region of the U.S. and is poised to reach Midwestern and Southern states in the near future.
To learn more about what you can do to help protect bats, visit Bat Conservation International.
- Bat Conservation International
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Humane Society
- Encyclopedia Smithsonian
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Scientific American
Images: istock.com, unless otherwise noted.