Bat Facts

15 Brilliant Bat Facts About These Famous Nocturnal Mammals

In exploring amazing facts about bats, we will dart into the intriguing world of these nocturnal mammals. Besides many myth-busting facts, we will explore their vital role in our ecosystem.

Moreover, we will also uncover some of the stories and legends that have shaped our perception of these creatures. Then, we will explore the threats bats face today and the modern conservation efforts underway to protect and preserve their populations against these threats.

Read on for pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about our winged friends. And if you love bats, or are simply intrigued, check out what people say about these flying mammals in our collection of bat quotes

13 Brilliant Facts About Bats

Bat pollinating a flower
Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

1. Bats are the only mammals that can fly

The bat is the only truly flying mammal on Earth. Belonging to the order Chiroptera, or “hand-wing,” only bats can achieve true flight because of their uniquely and expertly adapted wings.

What makes them so unique?

Firstly, why the term “hand-wing?” A bat’s wings have an intriguing structure comprising elongated finger bones linked by a thin, flexible membrane. This brilliant design allows bats to soar through the night sky gracefully and precisely6.

Named the patagium, this membrane comprises skin and muscle. It stretches from the elongated arm and finger bones to the bat's body and legs. Because of this design, bats enjoy an impressive range of motion and control when they fly.

Bats move through the air with a ballet dancer's elegance and an acrobat's agility. Imagine! They can hover in place, rapidly change direction, and even flip; their range of motion makes them efficient predators, especially for small insects.

Likewise, bats’ four long fingers provide the necessary structural support for flight and result in excellent dexterity. At the top of each wing is a thumb, which bats use to climb and grasp objects. 

2. Over 1,400 bat species live around the world

Upside down bat
Photo by rigel on Unsplash

The order Chiroptera is the second-largest order of mammals in the world. Impressively, bats make up around 20% of all known mammal species, comprising over 1,400 types scattered around the world. Only rodents surpass their astounding diversity.

Bats have evolved multiple adaptations that let them fill various ecological niches5. For example, we can find bats in the lush rainforests of South America to the scorching deserts of Africa. Meanwhile, around 47 bat species live in North America, while over 50 live in Europe. Additionally, more than 300 species live In Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Another interesting fact is that bats live on every continent except Antarctica. Its freezing temperatures and lack of habitats make the world’s southernmost continent uninhabitable for these mammals. 

Bats can live (almost) everywhere because of their biology and varying dietary preferences. For instance, most species are insectivores, while others, like fruit-eating bats, enjoy various fruits and nectar. Moreover, bats help control pests, spread pollen, and disperse seeds - many healthy ecosystems benefit from a sizable population of bats to thrive.

3. Bats come in all sizes

A giant golden-crowned flying fox bat in flight. Photo: Luke Marcos Imbong (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The world's smallest bat species is the bumblebee bat, or Kitti's hog-nosed bat, whose body length is a mere three centimeters and weighs only two grams4. Feeding mainly on small bugs and other insects, these bats live in the limestone caves of Thailand and Myanmar. These tiny bats can wind their way through tight spaces to evade predators, thanks to their size.

On the other hand, the giant golden-crowned flying fox bat is the world's largest bat species. Native to the Philippine forests, these bats have wingspans that reach 1.7 meters, making them formidable members of the animal kingdom. 

Despite their imposing size, they mainly feed on fruits, nectar, and leaves, while their vast wings allow them to fly across large distances in search of food. Their eating habits mean they also disperse seeds and spread pollen all over the forest floor.

Mexican free-tailed bats, also known as free-tailed bats, are pretty nimble. In contrast, like flying foxes, other bats are considerably larger, making them substantially slower than their smaller counterparts.

Noting the size differences between the bumblebee bat and the giant golden-crowned flying fox, we can see the remarkable diversity of the bat family.

Fun Fact: The Tri-colored Bat, which weighs less than a pencil, can eat up to half of its body weight in insects each night! Talk about an unassuming hero in pest control.

4. Bats navigate and find food with echolocation

When darkness overcomes the world, bats come alive and roam the landscape to find food. They can find their way through total darkness thanks to an ability called echolocation, which works similarly to sonar. 

How does it work? When a bat looks for food, they emit high-pitched noises that humans often can’t hear. Then, they listen to the noises echoing from objects around them to paint a vivid picture of their environment.

Echolocation helps bats find and capture prey, even in complete darkness. Bats can even track tiny insects like mosquitoes through the way their echoes sound, which tells them the exact type, size, and location of the nearby target. Moreover, bats use echolocation to avoid flying into trees and buildings, helping them move safely from one environment to another.

Fishing bats possess such advanced echolocation that they can identify tiny fish fins protruding from the water.

Besides finding prey and navigating locations, bats also use echolocation to communicate with one another. For example, specific calls share information about food sources, potential hazards, and their precise whereabouts. Since most bats are social species living in large colonies, echolocation is especially useful for maintaining group cohesion and coordination. 

5. Some bats drink blood 

A common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus)
A common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus). Photo: Javier Alfonso Racero-Casarrubia (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Over the years, humans have associated bats worldwide with vampires, and for good reason. Mainly, this association comes from the vampire bat, found in Central America and South America, which feeds on blood. 

There are three known species of vampire bat: the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus), the hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata), and the white-winged vampire bat (Diaemus youngi).

Thankfully, the vampire bat doesn’t target humans for meals (usually). Instead, they like to feed on animals like pigs, horses, and cattle. 

To find their next meal, vampire bats use their heat-sensitive noses to track an animal’s blood vessels. Then, they sink their teeth into the animal’s flesh, making a small incision. Moreover, these nocturnal creatures can sneak up on their prey. They can walk, run, and even jump to reach their target without detection.

While vampire bats don’t drink human blood, they do pose the risk of transmitting diseases like rabies. However, these bats rarely transmit such diseases to humans and animals. 

Interestingly, the vampire bat’s feeding habits have helped scientists learn more about blood clotting and making anticoagulant medications. 

These bats’ habits and mysterious nature have also fed human imaginations for decades, creating myths and folklore. Despite their bloodthirsty ways, vampire bats also need protection, like most bats, through conservation efforts so that they can thrive and sustain the planet’s biodiversity.

Read more: Vampire Bat Facts About The Blood-loving Mammals.

6. Bats help ecosystems thrive

As nocturnal animals, bats are incredibly important to our ecosystems7. While active, they pollinate flowers and spread seeds at night, thanks to their sense of smell and extraordinary flight capabilities. Bats can also access flowers that bloom at night. Many fruit trees, like bananas, guavas, and mangoes, rely on bats for pollination.

When bats disperse seeds, they promote plant diversity and help regenerate forests. Likewise, they also control the pest population since they eat their body weight in insects each night. As such, farmers rely on bats to limit the population of mosquitoes, moths, beetles, and other pests and flying insects, reducing crop losses to pest infestations. 

Since bats contribute to natural pest control, farmers require fewer chemical pesticides, creating a healthier environment and allowing for sustainable agricultural practices. Moreover, bats indirectly improve human health by eating disease carriers like mosquitoes. 

We can also judge a location’s ecological health by the presence of bats; they need stable habitats and are sensitive to environmental change.

7. Bats live in every habitat

Bats hanging from a tree in India
Bats hanging from a tree in India. Photo by Abhijeet Parmar on Unsplash

Bats flourish in various habitats across the globe. Our minds might immediately picture them hanging upside down in caves, their iconic home, a place they choose because it protects them and offers stable temperatures and humidities. 

However, not all bats live in caves. For instance, many bats live in trees; some live under loose bark or tree hollows, whereas others shelter in thick foliage.

Furthermore, bats can also live in manufactured buildings like attics, barns, and abandoned sites. Species like the big brown bat roost in these structures; the Mexican free-tailed bat also likes living under bridges because they provide similar conditions to caves. 

Many species also migrate to find seasonal food and suitable roosting sites. One example is the hoary bat, which migrates long distances, searching for warmer areas these bats prefer. On the other hand, the little brown bats hibernate in caves and similar structures in winter to save energy while food is scarce.

8. Bats follow a unique reproduction cycle

What separates the female bat from other mammals is its unique ability to store a male’s sperm in its reproductive tract for months instead of fertilizing its egg immediately. Called delayed fertilization, this reproductive strategy lets the female wait for the optimal conditions before conception, which ensures the best chances for her offspring, called pups, to survive and grow.

Delayed fertilization allows bats to synchronize their reproductive cycles2 with food availability and helps ensure successful pregnancies so their young can survive their vulnerable early life stages.

For instance, insectivorous bats rely on prey that thrives in the spring and summer. Delaying fertilization until their food sources return lets the females continue supplying nutrients to their newborn baby bats or growing embryos. 

Pregnant bats often form maternity colonies during this time, sharing warmth and protection while nurturing their pups. In a maternity bat colony, mother bats support each other and let them focus on raising their young. 

9. Bats live for a long time

Bats stand out among small mammals due to their long lifespans and can live from 20 to 40 years, depending on the species. For example, the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) lives for an average of 6-7 years, though some bats have survived for more than 30 years in the wild. 

Meanwhile, Brandt's bat (Myotis brandtii) holds the record for the longest-living bat; one individual bat was recorded to have lived for an astounding 41 years.

Their low reproductive rate offsets their remarkable longevity. Every year, a female bat gives birth to only a single pup, making the creatures vulnerable to population decline. It takes a long time for bats to recover any losses to their population, which is cause for concern. 

Today, bats face several threats, like habitat loss, disease, and climate change. Taken together with their slow reproductive rates, bats might not have sufficient capabilities to recover from substantial decreases in numbers. 

10. Bats are symbols of good luck 

Photo by sylvie charron on Unsplash

Since ancient times, the Chinese have long cherished bats as symbols of prosperity, happiness, and good fortune, thanks to the linguistic link between the word for bat (蝠) and good fortune (福).

Chinese art and architecture prominently feature bats; ceramics, textiles, and paintings contain the bat motif. One noteworthy example is the "Five Bats of Happiness," which represents a good life's five aspects: health, wealth, longevity, love of virtue, and peaceful death.

Similarly, bats are depicted as clever, resourceful animals in African folklore. Their tales focus on bats’ ability to navigate complete darkness and solve problems easily. Moreover, some African cultures regard bats as messengers and heralds of transformation because of their nocturnal nature. For example, the West African Akan culture associates the bat with the Adinkra symbol "Odwira," underscoring the importance of building a better future from the lessons of the past. 

Bats are also bearers of good luck in Indonesian culture, where bat motifs frequently appear in traditional textiles like batik. 

11. Bats have influenced scientific discoveries

Bats have helped scientists worldwide by giving them invaluable insights, which allowed them to break ground with new technologies. The most notable example is the invention of sonar, thanks to the discovery and study of bat echolocation. 

In the 1930s, Donald R. Griffin was the first to study this phenomenon among bats hunting for insects. His work helped scientists invent and produce manufactured sonar systems. Today, sonar is indispensable in naval navigation, underwater archaeology, and fisheries management.

Besides echolocation, researchers have studied bat flight to improve aircraft design. Researchers have studied the bat’s specialized anatomy and their incredibly flexible wings to find ways to improve flight mechanics and aerodynamics.

Similarly, they have gained new knowledge in fluid dynamics thanks to carefully analyzing a bat’s flight patterns. Thanks to their research, experts have applied this new knowledge in designing aircraft, drones, and other flying vehicles. With the help of bats, today’s flying machines now have better maneuverability, fuel efficiency, and overall performance.

Even NASA has expressed interest in bat flight as they begin to design bat-inspired wings for their spacecraft. Specifically, their researchers want to explore the potential of flexible wings for reducing drag and increasing lift for aircraft. Observing bat flight has also helped humans build efficient wind turbine blades and optimize wind energy generation.

12. Bats face threats from human activity

Brown bat on a green background
Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash

Human activities have contributed to habitat loss, climate change, and pesticide exposure, threatening bat populations worldwide3. Urbanization and deforestation have also taken away their roosting sites and food sources from these wild animals

Likewise, pesticides have affected bats indirectly. When they consume insects contaminated with pesticides, the bats accumulate harmful chemicals in their bodies. Over time, these chemicals lead to reproductive problems and weak immune systems.

Climate change also alters bats’ natural habitats. It forces their prey, like insects, to move to unfamiliar areas, disrupting their feeding patterns and leading to significant risks to survival. The fungal disease white-nose syndrome recently killed millions of bats in North America1. Discovered in 2006, this disease comes from the white fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. 

Bats suffering from white-nose syndrome experience erratic hibernation patterns. They wake up more frequently, causing them to spend precious energy. Unable to eat because of a depleted food supply, these afflicted bats die of hunger before spring. This disease has spread rapidly among a few species, causing a sharp decrease of over 90% in some populations.

Today, research and conservation efforts have helped shine a light on these threats. For instance, scientists are currently developing possible treatments for white-nose syndrome after studying its effects. 

Additionally, organizations like bat conservation international have started public awareness campaigns to teach people about why bats are important and why we should protect them. When we understand these threats and work together to resolve them, we can protect the future of these essential animals for generations.

13. 20 Million Bats Call the World's Largest Bat Colony Home

Every summer, the city of Bracken Cave, Texas, pulsates with life as it plays host to the world's largest bat colony. Around 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats claim this cave as their home, transforming the evening sky into an amazing spectacle.

Their nightly exit from the cave is a whirlwind of biology and survival, a battle against predators. By consuming massive amounts of night-flying insects, including serious agricultural pests, bats perform an invaluable service to the local ecosystem and economy.

14. Bat droppings provide many benefits

Did you know bats are key fertilizer suppliers as effective as organic?

Bat droppings, or 'guano,' are a rich source of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium nutrients essential to plant growth. Farmers and gardeners alike prize this natural byproduct for its remarkable fertilizing properties.

Furthermore, bat guano plays a pivotal role in ecosystems, supporting diverse cave-dwelling organisms. Love them or loathe them, bats genuinely create life from their waste. Now there’s a headline-grabbing bat fact that's hard to ignore!

15. Bats can groom themselves

You might not believe it, but bats spend much of the day grooming themselves, particularly their fur and wings. Like humans and other animals, bats take cleanliness seriously because it affects their appearance, health, and well-being.

Like cats grooming themselves, bats also use saliva to clean their bodies. They use their sharp teeth and spry tongues to comb through their fur and remove dirt, parasites, and dead hair. When they finish grooming their fur, bats can regulate their temperature better and experience better insulation. 

Bats also use saliva to clean and maintain their wings, which helps them retain their ability to fly. Cleaning their wings repairs small tears and removes tiny debris that could hamper their mobility.

Even though we might be creeped out by these mysterious creatures, we can admire their remarkable devotion to cleanliness and self-care.

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with B.

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1

Frick, W. F., Pollock, J. F., Hicks, A. C., Langwig, K. E., Reynolds, D. S., Turner, G. G., Butchkoski, C. M., & Kunz, T. H. (2010). An Emerging Disease Causes Regional Population Collapse of a Common North American Bat Species. Science.

2

Heideman, P.D., Utzurrum, R.C. Seasonality and synchrony of reproduction in three species of nectarivorous Philippines bats. BMC Ecol 3, 11 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6785-3-11

3

Voigt, C. C., & Kingston, T. (2016). Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of bats in a changing world. Springer.

4

Arita, H. T., & Fenton, M. B. (1997). Flight and echlocation in the ecology and evolution of batsTrends in Ecology & Evolution12(2), 53-58.

5

Tsang, Susan & Cirranello, Andrea & Bates, Paul & Simmons, Nancy. (2016). The Roles of Taxonomy and Systematics in Bat Conservation. 10.1007/978-3-319-25220-9_16.

6

Swartz, S.M., Groves, M.S., Kim, H.D. and Walsh, W.R. (1996), Mechanical properties of bat wing membrane skin. Journal of Zoology, 239: 357-378. 

7

Kunz, T.H., Braun de Torrez, E., Bauer, D., Lobova, T. and Fleming, T.H. (2011), Ecosystem services provided by bats. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1223: 1-38. 

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by Will Mu
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