Bats are often portrayed in popular media as harbingers of doom and the embodiment of evil. They’re consistently associated with death, malevolent witches, and vampires. Batman, with his bat-like attributes, is easily the most sinister superhero in the league. Most people will have seen or heard about this creature, but what do we really know about them?
So this month, ending on All Hallows’ Eve, we are celebrating this misunderstood mammal. We’ve found ten facts you may not have known about bats:
- Bats use echolocation to inform them how nearby objects are and employ this tool in hunting. Their physiologies allow them to produce sounds of 80 kHz (20 times higher frequency than what humans can hear), but smaller species can produce sounds up to 120 kHz.
- There are an estimated 1,116 species of bats, a number which grows as new species are discovered. They have been commonly split into two groups: the plant-eating megabats and the omnivorous microbats.
- Bats are the only mammals able to fly. The unusual configuration of the bat’s wing allows them to generate thrust which propels them forward. Some species are more capable of flying longer distances, for example the Brazilian free‐tailed bat migrates over 1,000 km from the United States to Mexico for the winter.
- Madagascar’s endemic sucker-footed bat uses wet adhesion in the pads on its wrists and ankles to stick heads-up on smooth leaves, instead of the usual head-down hanging position.
- Hibernation up to eight months is common with bats. Most mammals do not hibernate in sub-zero temperatures, but some bat species have been observed to buck this trend, overwintering in below freezing temperatures. These are cold-hardy animals!
- About one quarter of all living mammal species are bats.
- Mother bats leave their offspring to search for food sources. Mother and child relocate through contact calls, which can be specific to individual groups of bats.
- Roosts can be set up in a variety of surprising places. Some of the strangest include the Egyptian pyramids, churches, disused mines, and libraries, where they have been credited with protecting the books from insects!
- Despite being popularly portrayed as such, bats are not blind. Some species use their vision to locate prey in adequate light. But most species are unable to see well, so use their echolocation for hunting and to orientate themselves.
- Species that live in trees escape the oncoming cold of winter by migrating south. Flying and foraging along the way, some species travel as far as 2,000 km, such as the Nathusius’ bats.
Featured image credit: Fruit bats by shellac. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.