10 Bizarre but Interesting Facts about Bats

There are over 1,200 species of bats across the globe and they have a large footprint as they make up 20% of the entire mammal kingdom. While the creatures may appear to be scary, upside-down-hanging mammals that even the Batman is afraid of, there is a lot more to them than that. Their saliva which is an anticoagulant is now a medication administrated to stroke victims. It is named “Draculin” after Dracula. There are bizarre bat facts that will tell you more about these creatures of the night. Did you know that bats can swim in stressful situations? Here is more.

1. Not all bats live in caves. Polygamous, thumb-sized, Honduran white bats sleep in the leaves in the rainforest where each leaf has one male and up to six females.

Honduran white bats
Image credit: EricksonSmith/Flickr, Leyo/Wikimedia

Contrary to popular belief, not all bats live in caves. Take the Honduran white bat for example. These cute-looking, really tiny bats (3.7 to 4.7 cm long) have yellow, leaf-shaped noses and snow-white fur! They live in evergreen tropical rainforests and build leaf-tents, the majority of the times out of the leaves of the Heliconia plant. They cut the leaves at the midrib which makes the two parts of the leaves slump down because of their weight. This is home to them. They feel protected in their homes and do not fly out of it under any threat, camouflaging themselves from predators by staying motionless.

The Honduran white bats who feed only on fruits are polygamous and live in a leaf-tent with a harem of six females. A single offspring is known to be born to one female bat during the spring with the gestation period lasting a few weeks. They don’t sound like the bats we know of, do they? (source)

2. Bats have the capacity to eat insects equal to half their body weight every night. They can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.

Bat eating insect
Image credit: Gilles San Martin/Flickr

Bats can help an area to get rid of pests and bugs. Each bat is known to feast on 6,000 to 8,000 insects in one night, with the capacity to eat 1,200 mosquitoes or mosquito-sized insects in one hour. They also eat flies, gnats, cucumber beetles, and crop-destroying moths like the codling moth that affects 99% of the world’s walnut crops. Their ability to provide a natural pest control has made them popular with farmers. Another reason to thank these nocturnal mammals is chocolate. In Indonesia, when it was estimated what the cacao yield would be if they exterminated the bats, the result was a drastic drop of 22% which would run into a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. (1, 2)

3. Through what many naturalists call “reciprocal altruism,” well-fed bats will regurgitate blood and share it with other bats to keep them alive. Vampire bats cannot survive without blood for more than two nights.

Vampire bat
Image credit: Ltshears/Wikimedia

Female bats can be generous and lifesavers. If a vampire bat does not find blood for two nights in a row, the female bats feed them by regurgitating blood and sharing it with others in exchange for being groomed by them (licking their fur). When in captivity, female bats have shown exceptional care for new mothers. They have been observed feeding the new mother for weeks after a baby bat is born.

Vampire bats have special characteristics that are not common to other bats. They can walk, jump, and run and can also suck blood from an animal without harming it and sometimes, without waking it up. They occasionally bite humans for blood and can spread rabies. One researcher claimed that vampire bats can be tamed and can also be friendly to humans because when he called out the names he had given them, they would come flying to him. (source)

4. Research has revealed that the bats address each other as individuals. Not just that, they frequently argue with each other. Baby bats are also known to babble like human children.

Bats Hanging
Image credit: Suyash Dwivedi/Wikimedia

Researchers at Tel Aviv University translated “bat talk” through a machine learning algorithm and found out that the bats’ “squeaks” were them talking to each other. They found that Egyptian fruit bats, for example, communicate specific problems with each other when they gather in their roosts. The researchers were able to classify the bat calls in four categories, one of which was the bats arguing about food. Another one was about a dispute about positions in their sleeping cluster. The calls were not at all random.

Another human-like thing bats do is babble as babies. The fruit bats were raised by scientists in a vocal vacuum. As a result of this study which was published in the journal Science Advances, it was found that they babbled throughout their childhood before they learned to communicate effectively. (1, 2)

5. A bat named “giant golden-crowned flying fox” is a massive species of bats that has a five-foot wingspan and can be as big as a child.

Golden-crowned flying fox
Image credit: Gregg Yan/Wikimedia

A species that is facing extinction, the “giant golden-crowned flying fox” megabat is found in the forests of the Philippines at an elevation up to 3,600 feet. These bats are one of the largest species in the world and have a wingspan of 5.6 feet and can weigh up to 1.2 kilograms. Their diet is fruit-based (eating figs mainly), and they do not harm humans, but care has to be exercised while handling them as they might be carrying diseases. Because of their huge wingspan, they can travel up to 40 kilometers in one night while searching for food, and in that process, they act as seed dispersers for a lot of fruits in Philippines’ forests.

Destruction of habitat has put the bats in a dangerous position as they have to travel long distances to forage for food. One of the main reasons why this species of bats in facing extinction is hunting due to the huge demand for their pelts and meat. It is also threatened by deforestation and has been decreasing in numbers, completely disappearing from certain parts of the Philippines. (source)

6. If there were no bats, the world would not have tequila. The agave plant from which tequila is made is pollinated by the bats. They are also known as “farmers of the rainforest” as 300 species of fruits depend on pollination by bats.

Tequila and bats
Image credit: Pixabay

Thank the bats for those tequila shots. Tequila, which is made from agave plants. is pollinated only by bats. That is not all. Over 60 species of cacti rely on bats for pollination along with over 300 species of fruits like guavas, mangos, bananas, etc. These nectar-feeding bats mostly belong to two species: the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat. They migrate north from Mexico to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Every part of the world has bats except Antarctica. Even in the deserts, bats are known to act as natural pollinators playing a critical role in maintaining the ecosystem. Unlike bees, bats are not attracted to bright-colored or strong-smelling flowers so they play an exclusive role. (1, 2)

7. Bats are more closely related to cats than rats. Mexican free-tailed bats use sound to sabotage and jam the sensors of rival bats. Then they steal their prey.

Mexican free-tailed bats
Image credit: nps.gov, nps

Imagine a sound war in the sky with a prey as a prize. That is what the Mexican free-tailed bats do. These bats live in colonies of hundreds of thousands and a lot of food competition exists between them. To steal the prey of their rival bats, they will use sound to jam up their sensors. Since echolocation is used by the bats to hunt prey in the night, jamming their sensors will make them lose their prey. It was recorded by researchers according to a study published in the Science Mag that just when foraging bats used a feeding call, other interfering bats would send out an ultrasonic signal when they were close to their prey resulting in the foraging bats missing their target.

Even though they are called flying rodents, bats are not even remotely related to mice as much as they are related to cats. Like cats, fruit-bats, for instance, have an eyesight that adapts to low-light. Because of their unique characteristics, they have been placed in their own order of mammals known as “Chiroptera” which means “hand-wing.” (1, 2)

8. Female bats can control the timing of their pregnancy and the birth of baby bats. They choose a time when food is available in abundance along with keeping other ecological factors in mind.

Mother bat
Image credit: Maxpixel

Female bats carry only one young one at a time as they have to fly to feed and have the unique ability to time the birth of the baby bats. They use a variety of strategies to do so to make their delivery period match with a time when there is a maximum availability of food. This is done to make sure that the baby bats do not starve as they have to be fed until they become adults because their wings do not grow to full size for them to forage on their own. The species of bats that live in the temperate climates give birth during the spring. Some species also have the unique ability to delay fertilization for an entire season. If mating occurs in the fall, they can delay fertilization by storing the sperm in the reproductive tract until the next spring. Other species of bats can delay the development of the fetus until favorable environmental conditions exist. (source)

9. Bats are actually not blind, and they sometimes prefer to use their eyesight for hunting rather than echolocation. Some of them can also see the ultra-violet light which humans cannot and have a vision three times better than us.

Hunting bat
Image credit: nps.gov

The phrase “blind as a bat” has no basis in reality as bats are not actually blind. Since they prey in the night, they use echolocation as an aid to hunt for prey, but that is not the case always. Bats have been known to use eyesight to hunt as well depending upon the circumstances. In fact, many fruit bats always use their eyesight. They do not echolocate at all because they feed on nectar from flowers and not on insects. Even bats who are insectivores like brown long-eared bats used sonar and visual information both to hunt for prey.

A study published in 2009 in the journal PLOS ONE stated that two species of bats, the Pallas’ long-tongued bat and Seba’s short-tailed bat, could see in the daylight and could also see some colors. These visual receptors can also allow them to see the ultra-violet light which humans cannot see as its wavelength is outside a human’s visual spectrum. They have this ability as many flowers reflect UV light, which makes it easier for them to forage for food. Many larger fruit-eating bats can see three times better than humans. (1, 2)

10. Millions of bats are dying from the “white-nose syndrome” in North America that the scientists have no idea how to treat. An estimated 2.4 million pounds of insects were not eaten in 2008 as the population of the bats diminished which caused a strain on New England’s agriculture.

White-nose syndrome
Image credit: WikimediaNPS photo/von Linden

The white-nose syndrome, where a distinctive fungal growth forms around the bat’s muzzles and wings, has as of 2018, killed millions of bats in the United States and Canada. Fifteen bat species have been affected by this fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans which spread from bat to bat through contact, and four of those species have suffered massive declines. The white-nose syndrome has not only affected the population of bats but has had a direct environmental impact. As we know bats are natural pollinators and pest-eaters, their death meant that 2.4 million pounds of insects were not eaten as estimated by the U.S. Forest Service in 2008. In New England in the U.S., this has had a direct impact on the farmers who face crop damage and have to spend more money to get rid of the pests. In the U.S., the bats save the farmers at least three billion dollars every year in pest-control. Seed-dispersal is also put at a massive risk due to this disease whose cure has not been found yet. (source)

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