Bats – Profile and Information

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Bats are members of the order Chiroptera and are the only mammals that can fly. Bats are capable of sustaining flight by flapping their spread-out digits that are covered by thin membranous tissue (patagium) that they use for flying.

These flying mammals are more maneuverable than birds. Their ability, combined with their capacity to navigate their way using an acoustic orientation technique, has made their order highly populous.

List of common Bat species

As described by naturalists and zoologists, there are about 1,200 species of bats. These bat species are divided into two suborders, Megachiroptera or megabats, and Microchiroptera or microbats.

Some of the generally found bat species are listed below:

  • Egyptian fruit bat
  • California leaf-nosed bat
  • Honduran white bat
  • Indian flying fox
  • Big brown bat
  • Peter’s dwarf epauletted fruit bat
  • Split-nosed bat
  • Brown long-eared bat
  • Striped yellow-eared bat
  • Mediterranean horseshoe bat
  • Desert long-eared bat
  • Pygmy pipistrelle
  • Greater false vampire bat
  • Lesser false vampire bat
  • Great fruit-eating bat
  • Eastern red bat
  • Kitti’s hog-nosed bat
  • Lesser short-nosed fruit bat
  • Spotted bat
  • Hoary bat
  • Spectacled flying fox
  • Southern little yellow-eared bat
  • Sulawesi fruit bat
  • Pale spear-nosed bat
  • Gambian epauletted fruit bat
  • Pallid bat
  • Little brown bat
  • Mexican free-tailed bat
  • Virginia big-eared bat
  • Mariana fruit bat
  • Island tube-nosed fruit bat
  • Mountain tube-nosed fruit bat
  • Dwarf flying fox
  • Masked flying fox
  • Big-eared flying fox
  • Long-haired rousette
  • Yellow-winged bat
  • Arabian trident bat
  • Fawn leaf-nosed bat
  • Fulvus round leaf bat
  • Large-footed bat
  • Geoffroy’s bat
  • Fish-eating bat
  • Clear-winged woolly bat
  • Western barbastelle
  • Silver-haired bat
  • Western red bat
  • Evening bat
  • Tricolored bat
  • Indian pipistrelle
  • Little forest bat

Physical description and appearance

Size

Bat size varies depending on what species it is. The smallest bat species is Kitti’s hog-nosed bat with a length of 1.14-1.34 (29-34 mm), with a wingspan of 15 cm. One of the largest bats is the golden-crowned flying fox with a wingspan of 4.9-5.6 ft (1.5-1.7 m) and a forearm length measuring up to 8.5 (215 mm).

Weight

The Kitti’s hog-nosed bat weighs measures about 0.07-0.09 oz (2-2.6 g) while the giant golden-crowned flying fox can weigh up to 1.6 kg (4 lb).

Head

The shape of the bats head varies depending on the species. The megabats have bigger eye sockets, longer snouts, and smaller ears. This gives them a dog-like appearance. Smaller bat species such as the vampire bats have reduced snouts for housing large incisors and canines.

Color

Bats are usually brown or black, but may have white, orange, gray, or red coloration. Some bats like the spotted bats have white facial markings.

Dentition

Blood-sucking vampire bats possess 20 teeth while insect-eating bats have 38 teeth. Robust lower jaws and longer canines characterize bats chewing on hard-shelled insects. Fruit-eating bats possess cheek-teeth cusps adapted for crushing, while nectar-feeding bats possess long canines and minimized cheek-teeth.

Wings

Bats wings are much thinner, and they have more bones when compared to bird wings. The surface of the wings has touch-sensitive receptors, while the patagium membrane has nerves, elastic fibers, blood vessels, muscles, and connective tissues.

Distribution

Aside from the Antarctic and the Arctic, and some isolated oceanic islands, bats are vastly distributed around the world, and are especially abundant in the tropics. About 45 bat species have been discovered in the US alone, while approximately 100 species are present in West Africa.

Where is bats’ natural habitat?

Depending on the season, bats can live in different habitats, ranging from mountains to deserts and seasides. Bats need suitable roosts, which they find in foliage, crevices, human-made structures, and hollows. Megabats generally roost in trees.

What’s the lifespan of bats?

In their natural habitat, the average lifespan of these flying mammals is less than 20 years. Six bat species in the wild, including the lesser mouse-eared bat, Brandt’s bat, the Indian flying fox, little brown bat, greater horseshoe bat, and the brown long-eared bat have been found living for more than 30 years.

Scientists in 2006, discovered a tiny bat in Siberia. The small bat lifespan was documented to have been the longest to have lived up to 41 years.

What do bats eat?

Most megabats are mostly frugivores that eat pollen, fruits, and nectar. Most microbats are sharp insectivores, and they eat flies, moths, mosquitoes, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, bees, mayflies, and caddisflies.

These insectivorous bats eat more than 120 percent of their weight, while frugivorous bats consume more than twice their body weight. A large amount of food is consumed to make up for energy lost during flight.

Bat species like the fringe-lipped bat hunts for frogs, greater bulldog bat hunts for fish, and greater noctule bat eats birds. Other species like the white-winged vampire bats and the hairy-legged bats feed on the blood of birds and mammals.

Behavior

  • Bats make use of their larynx to produce ultrasonic sounds through their mouth and sometimes the nose. They use this sounds to create echoes that bats use in getting a detailed view of their environment. They also use this method to detect and identify their prey.
  • Most megabats are crepuscular or diurnal, while microbats are naturally nocturnal mammals.
  • Bats like the Mexican free-tailed bats dwell in colonies, while others like the silver-haired bats live in isolation.
  • In temperate regions, some species of microbat migrate hundreds of kilometers to dens they can hibernate in during winter. Other bats go int a state of minimal activity (torpor) in winter months. Some bats go back into their caves to hibernate for almost half a year.
  • They give off low-frequency calls to attract mates and to locate roost partners to protect resources. When bats aren’t flying, they roost by banging themselves inside down from their legs. Some bats can crawl funny when they are on the ground.
  • Bats are able to conduct heat better than other mammals. Since their wings have blood vessels that give off heat when extended, babes commonly wrap around their bodies when they want to rest. To stay insulated, they give room for a layer of air.

Adaptations

  • The membranes of bat wings are so thin and fragile that they help them to maneuver meticulously and fly with more lift and less drag.
  • The leading edges of the wings of nectar- and pollen-eating bats are so sharp that they form vortices, providing lift during flight.
  • They possess ankle joints that bats are able to bend, which allows the wings’ trailing edge to curve downwards, hence, allowing them to clamber up and hang in caves and on trees. Bats are able to lock their tendons when they are roosting.
  • Studies have found a respiratory system in bats, specially designed to handle the demands of their energy-draining flight, which needs a steady supply of oxygen.
  • Bats like tube-lipped nectar bats possess long, extensible tongues that are layer with fine bristles, helping the bats to feed on the juice of flowering plants.
  • Bat ears are so sensitive to the slightest of noises made by tymbalate insects, moths, and ground-dwelling earwigs and centipedes. The ridges on the inner surface of their ears help bats to focus and identify echolocation signals and target other sounds that prey make.

Reproduction and mating

Bats may have monogamous (males have one mating partner at a time), polygynous (males have multiple mating female partners), and promiscuous (both males and females have multiple mating partners) mating systems depending on the bat species.

Vampire, pipistrelle, and noctule bats have numerous mating partners, while the little Mexican free-tailed and brown bats are promiscuous.

Some monogamous bats include the yellow winged bat and the spectral. In temperate regions, bats do mate in early autumn and late summer, while tropical bats mate in the dry season. After copulation, males leave a vaginal plug behind.

Some female bat species display delayed fertilization. This means that the sperm is stored in their reproductive tract, and fertilization won’t happen till spring, many months after mating.

Other bat species have delayed implantation, which implies that the eggs stay free in the female’s reproductive tract where birthing is delayed until they find favorable conditions to care for the baby bats.

Conservation

Bats are hunted or eaten for food in countries across Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Bats are also threatened with pressure damage that is caused by wind turbines.

Active organizations like Bat Conservation International create awareness on the ecological importance of bats and the threats they face.

In the United Kingdom, all bats species are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Acts, meaning harming any bat is a punishable offense. To safeguard all bats from being eaten or hunted, the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 was implemented in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do bats hibernate?

Some species, including an eastern red bat, Indiana bat, little brown bat, and silver-haired bat hibernate in places like caves, mines, and rock crevices with ideal temperature and humidity.

2. Are bats blind?

Though no bats are blind, most microbat species have tiny and poorly-developed eyes, leading to poor visual clarity.

They can detect low levels of light, and some microbats can even detect Ultra Violet light. Whereas, megabats have excellent eyesight that easily adapts to daylight and night time.

3. Do bats lay eggs?

No. Bats don’t lay eggs

4. What are bag babies called?

They are called pups

5. Are bats dangerous?

Some bats go around with many infectious viruses and bacteria, like Ebola, rabies, Nipah, and coronaviruses.

6. Are bats rodents?

Bats are not rodents.

7. What predators may eat bats?

Birds of prey like owls, hawks, and falcons. Some terrestrial predators, such as snakes and cats, may hunt and eat bats.

8. What is a group of bats known as?

A colony

Interesting Facts

Nectar-feeding bats are natural pollinators, and more than 500 fruit trees and flowering plants depend on bat pollination for the dispersal of seeds and pollens.

Microbats use the sensitivity of the earth’s magnetic field, known as magnet-reception, for differentiating south from the north. This sensitivity is useful during long-distance travel.

Bats symbolizes darkness in European cultures. It also means evil, death, and witchcraft. The native Americans, like the Apache, Cherokee, and Creek, see the bat as a trickster spirit.

Farmers benefit from insectivorous bats as they help to reduce the population of farm pests by minimizing the use of pesticides. Bat guano or dung, being rich in potassium, nitrogen, and phosphate, serves as an efficient fertilizer.

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