20 things you didnt know about bats

20 things you didnt know about bats

Let’s face it, bats get a pretty bad rep. Many times in the media they are portrayed as scary, blood-sucking, rabid creatures. The vast majority of bats will never get rabies. And quite a few species can be pretty darn cute! As someone who has spent time studying bats in the wild, I jumped at the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with others—it’s something I believe all biologists should do. Here are my reasons for liking bats (and why you should like them too!).


Many people refer to bats as “flying mice,” but in truth, bats are more closely related to humans than they are to rodents. And aren’t we supposed to be nice to our relatives?



Bats are the second largest group of mammals in the world and consist of over 1,300 species. Among these species are bats that eat fruit, insects, nectar, meat and blood (only three species eat this way). Bats’ wingspan can range from 6 inches long (bumblebee bat) to 6 feet long (several bat species known as flying foxes)! There are bats in every continent but Antarctica that lives in caves, hollow trees, under loose tree bark, on tree branches and even man-made structures like bridges, wells, mines, and buildings! In some species, bats live alone, while others live in colonies of a few dozens, hundreds, thousands or even millions! And the variety of physical appearances is astounding, with species having an assortment of facial features, fur patterns, color and tail and ear lengths. Others have been given nicknames based on their appearances, such as the hammerhead bat, painted bat, the recently-discovered badger bat, and the Yoda bat!


Bats can actively control their flight, whereas “flying” squirrels can only glide (sorry guys!).


Bats aren’t blind and can use their eyes. However, many species use echolocation to find their prey and “see” their surroundings. They make calls that will travel through the air until it hits an object. This call then bounces off the object and echoes back to the bat, letting them know where the object is (so its unlikely that they’ll fly in your hair). Bats can make up to 160 calls per SECOND as they close in on their prey. This would seem like a noisy way to get food, but most bat calls are at ultrasound frequencies that are too high for us (and their prey) to hear.


Many bats eat LOTS of bugs! By doing this, bats reduce the number of pesticides farmers need to use (which also means fewer pesticides polluting the environment) and they reduce the amount of produce damaged by pests (which means more food for us!). Recently scientists estimated that bats in the United States have saved us somewhere between $3.7 and 54 billion in pest control services every year. Bats have been documented eating bugs that attack pecans, almonds, rice, cotton, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans.



Nectar-eating bats do this by pollinating flowers, just like bees. As they travel from flower to flower drinking nectar, they transfer pollen from one flower to another, which causes these plants to produce fruit (and seeds). Bats pollinate over 700 plants, some of which we use for food and medicine. Wild varieties of many of our most valuable crops rely on bats for their survival. These include bananas, breadfruit, avocados, dates, figs, peaches, mangoes and many others. In the American Southwest, the saguaro and organ pipe cacti and agave are pollinated by bats.


Fruit bats do this by a process called seed dispersal. These bats eat fruit and their seeds, fly away and disperse the seeds in a different location via their feces. By moving seeds away from the parent plant, bats allow these seeds to grow in an area where they’ll be more likely to grow without competition from the parent plant. One estimate found that one square meter of the rainforest floor on average may contain 12-80 bat-dispersed seeds each year. These include plants like figs, palms, Jamaican pepper (also known as allspice) and cacao, from which we get chocolate!


Guano (aka bat poop) contains nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate which helps plant, root and flower health and growth. And many people buy and use bat guano in their gardens! Don’t believe me?


Scientists have extracted a compound from vampire bat saliva and turned it into medicine (aptly named Draculin). Studies have found this anticoagulant drug to be very useful for stroke patients. Scientists are also studying bats’ resistance to DNA damage and malaria parasites in hopes of learning more about human DNA damage and how to better deal with malaria.


There’s so much to learn about these amazing creatures. When I studied them I was able to stay up late at night (or all night!), camp, hike and observe wildlife—things I already love doing! I’m still a young biologist and my fieldwork has been limited to Virginia (studying bats roosting in abandoned buildings) and Nevada (doing mine and cave surveys of bats), but even in that short time I’ve gotten a chance to see lots of beautiful scenery, strange and unusual sights, and plenty of non-bat wildlife. And I always have a good story (and plenty of photos) to share with others when I get home. So consider studying these fascinating animals—we have much to learn! So bats are nothing to be scared of. In fact, bats are facing something very scary themselves: a disease called white-nose syndrome, which has killed over 5 million bats since first appearing in a New York cave in 2006. Bats are also facing mortality from wind turbines, habitat loss, vandalism of their roosts, and as a source of bushmeat in other countries.


We can help bats out by creating and protecting habitat for them: If you have old or dead trees on your property, leave them standing (if its safe to do so). Bat houses are another great way to provide bats with a safe place to live. If you know where bats are roosting, do not disturb them, especially in early summer (when pups are being born and cant fly) or during the winter (when they are hibernating). You can also become a member of a bat conservation group who use their resources to help bats or get involved with National Wildlife Federation. The scariest thing of all would be if bats disappeared!

20 Things You Didn’t Know About Bats!

Making up one-fifth of all living mammal species and found on six continents, bats range from the insect-loving greater mouse-eared bat to fruit bats.

20 Things You Didn’t Know About Bats!

1. It’s time for bats to come out of the shadows and get their due as an evolutionary success story: About one-fifth of all living mammal species are of the order Chiroptera (“hand-wing”), found on every continent but Antarctica.

2. It’s likely bats once flew over Antarctic skies, too. A 2005 study in Molecular Biology and Evolution found ancestral New World bats probably spread from the Americas to Australia about 42 million years ago via the now-frozen continent, which was then temperate.

3. Some of those far-flying early bats settled in New Zealand and evolved into three different species, which are the island nation’s only native land mammals.

4. New Zealand bats are often called Pekapeka, the name of the indigenous Maori people gave them. It might sound adorable, but Maori folklore associates the animals with death and calamity.

5. In fact, while bats are symbols of good luck in China, most other cultures side with the Maori. It’s probably because the animals are active at night, the opposite of naturally diurnal humans who have long associated darkness with danger.

6. Bats do pose some danger as vectors of disease, including rabies. Researchers suspect they may also carry Marburg, a relative of Ebola, and coronaviruses such as SARS.

7. Our perception of the threat may be exaggerated, though. In June, a review in Trends in Parasitology found that bats carry far fewer infectious diseases than rodents.

8. And they’re definitely not rodents. In the late 20th century, based on initial genetic research, bats were grouped with primates and flying lemurs in the superorder Archonta.

9. More recent genetic analysis — not yet universally accepted — places bats in the superorder Laurasiatheria, with a diverse bunch of other placental mammals including whales, dogs, and giraffes.

10. Chiroptera’s fossil record is spotty because the earliest bats, like today’s species, had small, delicate skeletons that had to be buried in sediment immediately after death to be preserved.

The poetically named Botta’s Serotine. Brock Fenton

The poetically named Botta’s Serotine.

11. We do know this: About 52.5 million years ago in what’s now Wyoming, early bat Onchonycteris Finneyi was already capable of powered flight.

12. Bats are the only mammals with this trait; they also take to the skies differently than other flying animals. Unlike the more rigid wings of birds and insects, bat wings have multiple joints and move in and out as well as up, down, back and forth with every stroke.

13. One thing bats do have in common with birds: According to research released in June, the outer layer of their skin contains a compound that enhances pliability — handy when flight depends on your flexible wings. No other mammal has this adaptation.

14. You might think echolocation is another defining Chiroptera trait, but not all bats send out sound waves that bounce off prey and potential obstacles to create a picture of their environment.

15. Fruit bats, for example, generally rely on their eyesight to find food. For decades, it was assumed they didn’t echolocate, and most don’t. But a 2014 study found three fruit bat species sometimes use a rudimentary method of echolocation: They make a clicking noise with their wings to navigate in darkness.

16. If not for the Vikings, we might call a bat a “rearmouse.” It derives from the Anglo-Saxon term for the animal, hreáðe-mús. As Norsemen moved into what’s now the United Kingdom, beginning in the ninth century, Bakke, of Scandinavian origin, gradually replaced the word and evolved into bat.

17. “Rearmouse” persists colloquially today in areas of Great Britain that never fell under the Scandinavian influence, including pockets of Wales and England’s southwest.

18. Bats jam. Seriously. A 2014 Science study found that when competing for food, Mexican free-tailed bats emit an ultrasonic signal that effectively blocks the sound waves another bat sends out to home in on an insect. The interference causes the rival to miss its target.

19. Something else that’s off-target: the myth that bats get tangled in long hair. Some scholars trace the notion to an early Christian edict that women must cover their heads because their hair attracted demons. Already associated with devilish things, bats were assumed also to have a thing for hair.

20. One more fiction that makes us batty is the whole vampire thing. Only three of the more than 1,200 bat species are sanguivorous. Any bat you meet is far more likely to eat a mosquito or pollinate fruit than go for your jugular.

If you suspect that there are bats in the attic or basement of the home, please call Summit Environmental Solutions (SES) and we will send out a Wildlife Specialist to provide a free inspection and estimate on their removal. Contact us today at 703-520-5868.

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