10 Fascinating Facts About Bats
We all know bats as the typical Halloween mascot or the creepy winged creatures that take to the skies under the light of a full moon. But what do you really know about these animals? It turns out that bats are rather fascinating, as these ten facts prove:
- There Are Over A Thousand Bat Species
In fact, there are a total of 1,400 species of bats found around the world. Every continent except Antarctica is home to a number of different bat species. Bats also demonstrate a dramatic range of size. The smallest, the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, or bumblebee bat, is fully grown at about 1.2 inches long and weighs less than half a penny. This tiny bat species is also one of the smallest of all mammals.
Then you have the flying fox bat, who’s wingspan can be up to 6 feet. These so-called mega-bats are only found in the Philippines and can weigh up to 2.6 pounds when fully grown.
- Most Bats Don’t Drink Blood
The one species of bat that does drink blood is aptly named the vampire bat. These bats usually drink blood from sleeping animals such as birds, cows, horses, and pigs. Using their sharp teeth to make small cuts, they then lap up the blood with their tongues. An anticoagulant in their saliva keeps the blood flowing and stops it clotting.
Vampire bats are known to feed for up to 30 minutes without disturbing their host as their feeding doesn’t appear to hurt it. Incredibly, vampire bats hunt by their prey’s breathing sounds and they memorize the particular sound to return to the same host repeatedly.
- They Are The Only Flying Mammals
Bats are the only truly flying mammals. You may ask “what about the flying squirrel?” Technically a glider over short distances, the flying squirrel doesn’t actually fly. Bats can be pretty quick, flying at speeds in excess of 60 mph. The fastest flying bat is the Mexican free-tailed bat that can reach speeds of up to 100 mph. At these speeds, bats are the fastest mammals on earth.
- “Blind As A Bat” Is Wrong
Bats were labeled with this reputation because of their use of echolocation for hunting and for navigation, unlike most mammals that use vision for the same purposes. While they don’t have fantastic sight, they don’t struggle to see. However, their advanced echolocation allows them to pinpoint distance, location, size, and movement of an object.
- Hibernate, Migrate, or Both
It is more commonly known that many species of bats hibernate. What is less well known is that many are migrators. Some bats migrate so that they don’t have to hibernate, while other species migrate to alternative hibernating grounds.
- Hanging Upside Down Is By Design
All of a bat’s anatomy is designed for being upside down. To stop blood pooling in their heads, they have one-way valves that prevent a rush of blood. Their claws relax in a closed position, allowing them to hang onto the perch without using any energy. The downward pull of the body weight tightens the closed hold of the claws, allowing gravity to do the work for them.
Some good reasons for hanging upside down include very little competition from other animals for real estate on ceilings, and that it’s harder for predators to reach them. Another important reason is that bats cannot run or jump to start flying, they need to drop from something.
- Bats, Like Bees, Are Pollinators
Bats hold a pivotal role in the survival of hundreds of fruits and plants that rely on these winged creatures solely for pollination. If there were no bats, then there would be no more agave, avocados, bananas, and mangoes – to name just a few. Bats, like birds, also spread food seeds, most notably figs, and nuts.
- Great At Pest Control
Not only are bats the only pollinators for hundreds of plants, but they are also avid crop defenders due to their voracious appetites. Some bat species eat 6,000 bugs an hour, while typical species eat their body weight each night. Some gardeners build special bat houses to attract bats to control the bugs in their gardens and yards.
- Bats Play An Important Role In Medicine
Bats play an integral and ongoing role in the development of new drugs and medical research.
For example, drugs have been developed for cardiovascular disease and arteriosclerosis from the study of vampire bats anticoagulant saliva. Plus, there are now about 80 medicines made from plants that are only pollinated by bats. Furthermore, a lot of vaccine research utilizes bats and has been responsible for major advances in this field.
Bats echolocation has also been integral in studies for the blind and has assisted the development of navigational aids for the blind.
- The Biggest Threat To Bats Is Disease
In the US alone, 40 species of bat are suffering severe population decline, 10 species are endangered, and 2 are threatened, all mainly due to disease. In contrast, hawks, owls, snakes, and other natural predators, have a small effect on bat populations in comparison to disease.
One of the biggest threats is a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome that’s named after the white fungus that grows around the bat’s wings and muzzle while it’s hibernating. White-nose syndrome has decimated over 90% of the population of little brown, northern long-eared, and tri-colored bats in less than a decade.
How Can You Help To Save Bats?
We should all do our part to save the bat populations, especially in the case of slowing the spread of disease. We can do this by avoiding vulnerable hibernation areas. If you do have to enter the hibernation area, ensure that you decontaminate effectively before entering. Placing a bat house in your garden is also a great help to local bats that have suffered habitat loss, just be sure to give it a wide berth during any hibernation periods.
Working together, a step at a time, bats could be taken off the endangered list completely.