All About Bats - Bat Facts & Information
Bats are a sweet creature, though they're certainly one of the most misunderstood ones out there. Not only are these creatures not blind, as the old saying tells, but quite a lot of their behaviour is different than what you might consider. Throughout this article, we're going to run through everything you need to know about bats, from where you can find them near you, to exactly what they eat.
There are a range of different things that you might need to know about bats, but we're going to start off with the basics, and build from there. Bats are mammals that live around the world. They're the only mammals that posses the ability to fly, with their leathery wings allowing them to swoop, swarm, and hunt with the best of them.
There are eighteen species of bat in the UK, with bat populations taking something of a hit in the past hundred years or so. With that said, though, thanks to the efforts of conservation groups, those bats are well and truly hanging on. Of the eighteen species, seventeen are known to be breeding in the UK! This represents almost a quarter of the total number of mammals throughout the UK. There are some bats in the UK that have found themselves here after being carried by the wind from Europe, but they typically find their way home after a short while.
Most bats are quiet creatures, typically spending their time in caves and similar dark, sheltered places, emerging at nighttime to hunt for insects, or scavenge for different types of vegetation.
What is a Bat and where do Bats come from?
There are a few different things about bats that might define them as the specific creatures that they are, but the key point is that they're the only mammal species capable of true and sustained flight. There are other species of mammal that can glide and can appear to be flying, though bats are capable of flight in a true sense. Bats' wings, interestingly, are actually adapted front legs. The wings are a form of a membrane, spread across several different wing bones to create a surface capable of supporting the bat itself. The bones within the wing are best described as 'fingers', with the bones across the top of the wing functioning as the hand, wrist, and arm bones. Essentially, this means that bats are flapping their arms up and down during flight.
We mention this distinction about bat wings because it's one of the things that separates them from birds - bird wings are not at all like hands or feet, they've evolved as wings, and wings only.
Within bats, there are two main forms of the bat, the microbat, and the megabat.
There are several differences between these types of bats which means that bats vary on a larger level than one could expect of two members of the same species. For example, microbats use echolocation while flying to determine obstacles and other things that are around them. Megabats, however, do not use echolocation, save for one exception - the Egyptian fruit bat. This bat uses a different method of echolocation than any microbat, however, so it is counted as something of an exception to the rule.
Another noticeable difference between microbats and megabats is the tragus. The tragus is a piece of flesh that humans have on their ear, too - the small bump which can be depressed to cover the ear opening. The tragus is thought, in bats, to be essential to proper echolocation. Microbats have a tragus, and this is something that allows them to be visually distinguished from megabats.
Are Bats birds?
There are a few small differences between birds and bats. The major difference between, say, vampire bats, and say, robins, is that vampire bats are mammals, while robins are birds.
This means that vampire bats, along with other bats, give birth to live young, and produce milk to feed their babies. Robins, along with other species of birds, lay eggs and do not produce milk.
Furthermore, bats have jaw bones with teeth, while birds have beaks and no teeth - they're certainly different species.
Are Bats Mammals?
Yes, bats are mammals. Bats, from mouse-tailed bats to horseshoe bats, and all the fruit bats in between, give birth to live young and produce milk to feed their babies. This means that while there are many species of bats out there in the world, they are all, technically, mammals.
How many Bat species are there?
This is a stunning fact! There are over 1,400 bat species in the world, with them being found in nearly every part of the Earth, aside from extreme deserts and polar regions.
The main reason for this is that bats are a large, complex species. This means that different types of bats can be of different sizes and shapes, leading to a wealth of different bats out there in the world, bringing their own unique skill set to the table.
A great example of bats being spread throughout the world is vesper bats - this is a family of microbats that are the most widely distributed in the world, being specialised to occupy a range of different environmental niches. The name of the bat comes from the Latin word 'vesper', meaning evening: they are sometimes termed 'evening bats'.
What do Bats eat?
Bats feed on a wide variety of different things, with bats being the number one predator of night-flying insects. This doesn't mean too much, in the grand scheme of things, other than that every single bat out there adores insects - they are commonly fed mealworms in zoos since the high protein content and low cost combines to make a great food choice.
Bats also eat fruit, from time to time. Fruit-eating bats are generally megabats - they don't use echolocation to seek out flying insects at night, instead relying on their eyesight to seek out fruit. The eyes of megabats are generally larger than those of microbats, from which we can infer that they make greater use of them than microbats do.
In very rare cases, bats can eat solely blood. The common vampire bat, hairy-legged vampire bat, and white-winged vampire bat are all bats that rely on hematophagy (the practice of eating blood) to survive. False vampire bats are also out there - they take their name from the fact that they look quite similar to vampire bats, with a large, upturned nose leaf. However, they eat insects, most commonly, so are not true vampires.
A bat roost is any place out there that a bat might use to roost. Unlike birds, these spaces can be caves and similarly damp locations. While a bat could likely roost almost anywhere, they're a lot timider than urban birds, and will commonly spend time locating a place to live outside of the city, such as a large tree or a cave. A roost could be a single bat, or it could be a number of bats all living together.
Flying foxes are a type of bat that lives in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and several other places. They're more commonly referred to as fruit bats and are notable in that they're the largest bats in the world. A few species of bat are quite large, but this megabat is the largest - it has a wingspan of five and a half feet, just a little taller than the average height of a woman in the USA!
What do bats eat?
Bats can eat a wide range of things, though there are two main options - fruit, or insects. Megabats tend to eat fruit, using their notably large eyes to seek out fruit on trees. They also tend to live in warmer climates, where the fruit is available throughout the year in the wild.
Microbats, however, use echolocation to seek out insect populations near them. They're also smaller, and this combination of size and precise accuracy allows them to be particularly lethal to insects, since they can swoop and dive to precisely the correct location. Echolocation gives them a uniquely 3D view of the world, which they can use to track insects as they fly through the night.
While megabats prefer to eat fruit, the vast majority of microbats prefer to eat insects. This is likely for much the same reason that birds enjoy eating insects - they're high in protein and easy to track down, meaning that they're a wonderfully efficient food source. The vast majority (if not all) bats in the UK are microbats, meaning that they're insectivorous, rather than seeking out fruit or, in the case of some rare bats, blood.
Bats found in the UK
There is a range of bats found in the UK, as we've discussed earlier in the piece, and it's worth saying that they're all unique and beautiful in their own way. We're particularly fond of the greater horseshoe bat, which has a sweet, furry face.
It's becoming increasingly popular to install bat boxes or bat houses into your garden in order to attract and help bats!
The most common bat in the UK is the common pipistrelle. These are particularly small bats, only weighing around five grams, which is the same as a twenty-pence coin! Each of these wonderful little creatures can eat as many as three thousand tiny insects in one night.
Where are they?
The vast majority of bats spend most of their time in their roosts. This goes for, as we say, most species of bat, from the brown bat to the yellow winged bat, and all the free-tailed bats in between.
Bats in the UK tend to roost in trees, finding a little bit of space at the core of a trunk, or in the canopy of a particularly dense tree. They tend to stay away from humanity and instead prefer natural spaces.
Some species are known to favour human-made structures, though this is commonly only due to a lack of natural spaces that they could live in.
Can bats swim?
Yes, bats can swim! As with most mammals, they're capable of swimming if the need arises. It's not part of their regular activity, but they float and tend to use their wings as though they're particularly small oars.
In the wild, any bat can swim to and fro in small ponds before coming ashore and taking off from the 'beach' area. In swimming pools, though, or similar spaces with steep walls, a bat typically cannot climb the smooth wall to get out, instead being stuck until help arrives.
Are Bats Friendly
Yes and no - they could be considered to be as friendly as any other mammals that you might interact with, such as squirrels, or mice. That is to say that while a bat isn't inherent hostile to you, it isn't inherently friendly, either.
Most of the time, a bat will be scared away by the presence of humans - we're too noisy and clumsy to be too charming to out flying, furry friends. For this reason, it's rare to see a bat up close in the wild - they commonly fly away.
A bat can be an excellent pet, however, and tame ones are commonly kept in some places in the world. A pet bat has many of the same problems as a pet bird, however: allowing it free space to fly and explore can be tricky for a lot of people. When happy and fed, however, a bat can be perfectly docile and tame when interacting with humans.
There are a number of babies out there in the bat world, though there is no true bat mating season, to speak of. As they're mammals, they're perfectly capable of mating and producing live young at any time.
With that said, though, bat young are typically produced shortly before hibernation in the winter, with September and October commonly marking the beginning of the mating season for any bat pairs.
What are baby bats called?
A baby bat is commonly referred to as a pup! It's hard to say why this is, though we would imagine it's because, quite simply, they're small, dark, and furry, just as a number of puppies are when they're born.
Are Bats Harmful To Humans?
A bat is rarely inherently harmful to humans, since the creatures have mouths and claws that have evolved, over a long period of time, to be lethal to insects, rather than to large mammals such as humans. To that end, a bat wouldn't really be considered harmful to humans in any meaningful way.
However, a bat can serve as a vector in the life cycle of a number of diseases, including rabies. Rabies is, of course, a particularly awful disease, for which there is no cure after symptoms have presented in a sufferer. Rabies doesn't affect a bat too much, but they can transfer it if, in a panic, while in an enclosed situation, they resort to biting another mammal. If a bat feels threatened, it may do this. For this reason, a rabies shot is typically administered after a person has been bitten by a bat.
As a small, furry mammal, a bat can carry fleas. This. is quite rare, since they fly around a little too much for fleas to find a lot of purchase and ability on their skin. It is worth mentioning, though, since a flea is a vector for a whole host of different diseases - it's worth considering those. in the list of diseases that a bat could, theoretically, transfer.
Five facts about Bats
The largest bat in the world, the flying fox, has a wing span of five and a half feet! This is two inches taller than the height of an average woman in the USA - 5'4".
The wings of a bat are, in terms of their construction, deeply similar to the hands or forepaws of a mammal - they contain bones similar to those of a wrist, hand, and fingers.
There are two kinds of bat - microbats and megabats. The main difference between the two is that microbats use echolocation to find their way around, while megabats use their eyes, which are considerably larger than those of microbats.
There are three species of vampire bat, and they are the only three species of bat that engages in hematophagy - the practice of exclusively eating blood.
There are eighteen species of bat in the UK - this represents around a quarter of the total number of mammal species within the UK.
Amphibians and Reptiles