In exploring the many types of bats, we will closely examine their distinct characteristics, habitats, behaviors, and dietary patterns. From small insect-eating species to large fruit-eating species in the heart of rainforests, this article will better understand these creatures and their role in the ecosystem.
General Information about Bats
There are over 1,400 species of bats in the world, except Antarctica. They vary in size, with the bumblebee bat being the smallest and the golden-crowned flying fox having a wingspan of up to five and a half feet.
As the only mammals that can fly, most bat species have lightweight bodies due to their thin wing membranes and delicate bone structures. They use echolocation to navigate through dark environments and locate insects.
Many bats can live practically anywhere, barring extreme desert and polar environments. Some bats, like the Eastern red bat, hibernate in caves and trees during the winter.
Bats also contribute to the ecosystem by pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions.
They also recycle nutrients into the cave ecosystem. For instance, bat guano or dead bats on the cave floor feed multitudes of small organisms that are also food for larger organisms that live in the cave. Other species also carry parasites like bat bugs and bat flies; vampire bats can also carry rabies.
Unfortunately, bat populations face habitat loss, diseases, hunting, and climate change. To help the animals, some people build bat houses to attract bats to their new homes or temporary shelters.
Bats are classified into two suborders: Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera. The former encompasses larger fruit bats or flying foxes, while the latter includes smaller insect-eating bats.
The Megachiroptera suborder lives chiefly in tropical and subtropical regions, while the Microchiroptera suborder has a broader distribution.
20 Types of Bat Species
1. Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)
The Little Brown Bat is a type of microbat in North America, where it lives in water bodies, trees, and caves and has golden to olive-brown fur for camouflage.
During the day, it retreats to shelter; at night, it uses echolocation to hunt prey. During breeding seasons, females form maternity colonies in the spring and give birth to a single pup. It hibernates during winter, living in large groups for warmth.
The Little Brown Bat is endangered due to an invasive fungus4, white-nose syndrome, which is set to reduce the population by over 50% in the next three generations (15-30 years). This disease, which decimated North American bat populations since 2006, will likely infect the entire global range within 12-18 years.
2. Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
The Big Brown Bat is a nocturnal species in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. It has a wingspan of 12-16 inches and a body length of 4-5 inches.
Unlike many bat species, it does not migrate and hibernates in caves, mines, or artificial structures during winter.
It uses echolocation to locate prey and mainly feeds on beetles, although it also consumes moths, flies, and wasps. Moreover, it can consume up to half its body weight in insects during one feeding session.
3. Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus)
The Hoary Bat is one of the largest bats found in North America, with a wingspan of up to 16 inches. It has distinctive 'hoary' fur that sparkles under the moonlight.
This type of bat roosts in trees or shrubs, where it hunts insects with great precision using its powerful echolocation abilities. Moreover, they have an annual migration from Canada to South America.
4. Silver-Haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans)
The Silver-Haired Bat inhabits North America and possesses shimmering, silvery hairs. These solitary mammals prefer to live near water, feeding on flying insects. They dwell in trees during summer and hibernate in caves, mines, or tree hollows during winter.
Then, they mate in the fall. However, females delay fertilization until spring, ensuring the birth of one or two pups in late spring or early summer. It takes these young bats only a few weeks to learn to fly.
5. Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)
The Red Bat features a distinctive fur coat ranging from deep red to chestnut. It is distributed across Canada, the United States, and Alaska and prefers to roost in trees and shrubs instead of caves.
During winter, the Red Bat migrates to warmer climates and uses its echolocation skills to hunt moths, beetles, and flies.
6. Eastern Long-Eared Bat (Nyctophilus bifax)
The Eastern Long-Eared Bat inhabits Australia's eastern and northern regions. Its long ears are almost as long as its body, lined with ridges and folds, allowing the bat to use echolocation to pick up faint sounds of its prey.
Moreover, its brown and grey fur provides natural camouflage against predators. Its flight pattern is slow, deliberate, and fluttering, similar to that of a giant moth, which makes it less noticeable to prey and predators.
The bat typically lives alone or in small groups, preferring tree hollows or loose bark as its habitat. It feeds on beetles and moths from foliage or ground, relying on its finely tuned long ears to detect the slightest sound or movement.
7. Greater Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum)
The Greater Horseshoe Bat is a medium-sized bat species notable for its horseshoe-shaped nose leaf. It is widely distributed across Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern Asia.
The bat typically roosts in caves, mines, cellars, and abandoned buildings and can form large colonies. It consumes moths, beetles, spiders, and other small invertebrates at night, using echolocation to locate its prey.
8. Lesser Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros)
The Lesser Horseshoe Bat’s horseshoe-shaped nose gives it superior echolocation abilities, allowing it to navigate efficiently in the dark. At dusk, this bat feeds primarily on small, flying insects, which it successfully captures using its echolocation skills.
It lives in forests, farmlands, and even urban areas across Europe and North Africa. Unlike many other bat species that hibernate in large groups, the Lesser Horseshoe Bat prefers solitary hibernation in caves, mines, or old buildings.
9. Mexican Free-Tailed Bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)
The Mexican Free-Tailed Bat inhabits various habitats across the Americas. They have a unique free-hanging tail, and they form some of the largest colonies of mammals on the planet, with millions of members.
They prefer to roost in caves but can also dwell in artificial structures such as buildings and bridges.
10. Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis)
The Evening Bat lives in North America. It has a wingspan stretching 10 to 11 inches and emits a high-pitched chirp that distinguishes it from other bat species.
Unlike most nocturnal bats, it is active during late afternoons or early mornings and displays an agile, fast flight. It mainly feeds on beetles, moths, and flies, which helps regulate pest populations.
During winter, it does not hibernate like most bats but flies in search of warmer territories.
11. Eastern Pipistrelle (Perimyotis subflavus)
The Eastern Pipistrelle is a bat species in North America. It has a unique tri-colored fur that shifts from dark to yellowish-brown, then back to dark.
It inhabits various locations, including caves, mines, and human-made structures. However, it prefers areas near streams, lakes, and rivers in the eastern United States, Canada, and Mexico.
The Eastern Pipistrelle's flight is slow and gentle, resembling the fluttering of a butterfly. Still, it is a fierce predator, consuming insects equal to half its body weight each night, such as moths, flies, beetles, and wasps.
IUCN designated this bat species as vulnerable primarily due to white-nose syndrome, which could cause a 45% population drop in the next 15 years despite its habitat tolerance and protected area presence6.
12. Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis)
The Indiana bat lives in the forests of the eastern and midwestern United States. They are tiny creatures with 11-inch wingspans, and their diet consists of small flying insects.
Moreover, they hibernate in caves and mines during winter, and females give birth to a single pup during summer.
The species is crucial for controlling insect populations but faces habitat destruction and white-nose syndrome.
13. Northern Long-Eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis)
The Northern Long-Eared Bat lives in North American forests. It prefers mixed woodlands, but they can have cozy roosting spots in tree crevices, caves, and artificial structures like barns and sheds.
This bat has long ears that extend beyond its nose and a dark brown fur coat that lightens to a tawny brown on its belly. It hunts insects at night, swooping and diving to catch moths, beetles, and flies mid-flight.
The bat also practices delayed fertilization, which helps it survive in its challenging environment.
14. Gray Bat (Myotis grisescens)
The Gray Bat is native to the United States. Its name comes from its uniformly gray fur covering its medium-sized body. These cave-dwelling bats prefer spaces with stable temperatures, high humidity, and minimal disturbances.
This type of bat can perform aerial hawking to feed on aquatic insects like mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies during twilight and dawn.
After a significant population decline pre-1990, the Grey Bat was once endangered but is now listed as vulnerable7. However, they still face risk from white-nose syndrome even after recovery programs boosted their numbers into the millions. The disease could prompt more than a 30% decline over three generations.
15. Ghost Bat (Macroderma gigas)
Ghost Bats inhabit the wild terrains of Australia. They have a nearly transparent skin that gives them their name and a wingspan of up to 16 inches/
Unlike other bats, Ghost Bats prefer to live in small groups in quiet corners of caves, deserted mines, hollow trees, and rock crevices. They also use their echolocation to navigate and hunt insects.
However, Ghost Bats are a vulnerable species3. Currently totaling around 4,000-6,000 mature individuals, they faced a decline of over 10% in 24 years due to various threats. These threats include mining-related activities, the risk of mine structure collapse, and the loss of major roost sites.
16. Natterer's Bat (Myotis nattereri)
The Natterer's Bat is a medium-sized bat living across Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Its name comes from the German naturalist Johann Natterer.
The bat lives near water in old buildings, hollow trees, or caves. It performs impressive aerial skills and eats spiders, beetles, and moths.
It hibernates from November until around March or April. In summer, female Natterer's Bats give birth to a single pup.
17. Greater False Vampire Bat (Megaderma lyra)
The Greater False Vampire Bat feeds mainly on insects and occasionally preys on small bats, birds, and reptiles. As their name indicates, these false vampire bats do not feed on blood. Their name comes from an old misconception that somehow stuck through the years.
It lives in South and Southeast Asia, preferring to roost in caves, abandoned buildings, tunnels, and hollow tree trunks.
Moreover, its distinctive horseshoe-shaped facial structure helps with echolocation. Despite its intimidating appearance, it is harmless to humans.
18. Hawaiian Hoary Bat (Lasiurus semotus)
The Hawaiian hoary bat, or 'ōpe'ape'a as natives call it, displays a remarkable charcoal coat with frosty tips. Towering over others in its league, this bat features a robust wingspan of 13.5 inches. It favors habitats with tree cover, mostly spotted near the forest edges or parks.
The Hawaiian hoary bat, once considered a subspecies of the mainland hoary bat, is now acknowledged as a distinct species due to phylogenetic divergence2 dating back 1.4 million years. Although it was believed both types of bats lived together in Hawaii, more recent in-depth research showed that Hawaiian hoary bats are the only native land mammals of Hawaii1.
19. Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus)
The Vampire Bat feeds exclusively on blood, mainly from livestock. They live in large colonies in dark caves and trees, where they enjoy warmth, safety, and community.
Aside from its blood consumption, it is known for its efficient digestion system. In a quick 20-minute feed, it can consume over half its body weight in blood. This digestive speed enables them to take flight shortly following their meals, keeping them mobile and effective. Their distinct microbiome further assists digestion and protects them against blood-borne pathogens.
However, the bites of these flying mammals can transmit rabies, which poses more risk to livestock than to humans. Curiously, the bat's saliva has medical applications too. Its anticoagulant properties have been utilized to increase blood flow in stroke patients5.
20. Spectacled Flying Fox (Pteropus conspicillatus)
The Spectacled Flying Fox lives in northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. It is the largest bat species with a wingspan of up to 5 feet.
As a frugivore, it mainly feeds on fruits, nectar, and pollen. Its feeding habits aid in seed dispersal and flower pollination, which helps forests regenerate.
These bats embark on nightly foraging journeys spanning up to 30 miles per day and communicate with their fellow bats through distinctive chatter. They retreat to their treetop colonies at dawn to rest and become active again at night.
Pinzari, C. A., Kang, L., Michalak, P., Jermiin, L. S., Price, D. O., & Bonaccorso, F. J. (2020). Analysis of genomic sequence data reveals the origin and evolutionary separation of Hawaiian hoary bat populations. Genome Biology and Evolution, 12(9), 1504–1514.
Baird, A. B., Braun, J. K., Mares, M. A., Morales, J. C., Patton, J. R., Tran, C. Q., & Bickham, J. W. (2015). Molecular systematic revision of tree bats (Lasiurini): doubling the native mammals of the Hawaiian Islands. Journal of Mammalogy, 96(6), 1255–1274.
Armstrong, K.N., Woinarski, J.C.Z., Hanrahan, N.M. & Burbidge, A.A. (2021). Macroderma gigas (amended version of 2019 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T12590A209530568.
Solari, S. (2021). Myotis lucifugus (amended version of 2018 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T14176A208031565.
Hacke, W., Albers, G. W., Al-Rawi, Y., Bogousslavsky, J., Dávalos, A., Eliasziw, M., Fischer, M., Furlan, A. J., Kaste, M., Lees, K. R., Soehngen, M., & Warach, S. (2005b). The Desmoteplase in Acute Ischemic Stroke Trial (DIAS). Stroke, 36(1), 66–73.
Solari, S. (2018). Perimyotis subflavus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T17366A22123514.
Solari, S. (2018). Myotis grisescens. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T14132A22051652.