Nearly 1,400 kinds of bats account for a fifth of all mammal species, ranging from tiny bumblebee bats weighing less than a U.S. penny to giant flying foxes with nearly fix-foot wingspans. Below, check out some of our favorite facts about these amazing animals – and when you’re done, check out Essential Bat Values to learn more about their impact on the world around us!
Left: A Kitti’s Hog-nosed or bumblebee bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) from Thailand. It weighs only about 2 grams and is often referred to as the world’s smallest mammal, but several other bat species and a species of shrew are of similar size. Right: Large flying foxes (Pteropus vampyrus) have wingspans of nearly six feet, the largest of any bat.
- Bat navigation systems (echolocation) are believed to be, on an ounce per ounce, watt per watt basis, billions of times more efficient than anything similar developed by humans.
- Bats have highly sophisticated social systems, strikingly similar to those of higher primates, elephants and dolphins, sharing information and food and even adopting orphans.
- California leaf-nosed bats can hear cricket footsteps, survive desert heat for months at a time without drinking a drop of water, and need only starlight to see tiny sleeping insects in foliage.
- Bats are quick learners with long memories. Frog-eating bats can identify frogs by their calls, can learn new calls in just minutes and remember them for at least two years without further repetition.
- Fishing bats can detect objects as fine as a human hair on a pond surface and use huge, flattened toes and claws to snatch minnows from the water.
- Pallid bats are immune even to the deadliest stings of scorpions and centipedes on which they feed.
- Many moths listen for bat echolocation and flee when a bat is heard. But some bats simply rely on hunting frequencies that are too high or low for moths to hear, evading detection like stealth bombers.
- Bats can live up to 41 years in the wild, still able to chase down flying insects for dinner, the equivalent of a human living to be 100, still able to hear well and run obstacle courses.
- Bats, not birds or bees, are the world’s most effective long-distance pollinators, explaining why tropical plants often compete for their services.
- Tiny woolly bats live in colonial spider webs in Africa and serve as primary dispersers of young spiders to new locations.
- Big brown bats, and several other species, have special adaptations permitting them to survive sub-freezing body temperatures during winter hibernation.
- Slit-faced bats form nursery colonies and rear young in crocodile burrows in Africa.
- Woolly bats live in pitcher plants in Borneo, a group of plants famous for eating everything from insects to rats. But one species has adapted to accommodate bats and feeds on their droppings.
- All bats are good swimmers, using their wings as oars.
- Round-eared bats of Latin America use their teeth and extra strong jaws to drill holes into arboreal termite nests where they live.
- Many rain forest bats, especially in Latin America, form their homes by cutting midribs of large leaves to form “tents.”
- Free-tailed bats fly thousands of feet above ground and rely on tail winds to carry them long distances at nearly 100 miles per hour, both to reach feeding areas and to migrate. (Find more gorgeous emergence photos here!)
- Free-tailed bats can survive and rear young in ammonia gas concentrations that would be quickly lethal to a human. They detoxify the ammonia by allowing carbon dioxide to accumulate in their lungs.
Left: A roosting cavity carved into the bottom of a termite nest for a colony of three Pygmy round-eared bats (Lophostoma brasiliense) in a Trinidadian rain forest. Middle: Pygmy round-eared bats (Lophostoma brasiliense) roosting in a termite nest. Right: Up close pygmy round-eared bats (Lophostoma brasiliense) roosting in a termite nest in Trinidad. These bats cut a perfectly round hole in the bottom of an occupied termite nest where they then roost.
- A mother free-tailed bat can find and identify her own newborn baby by either voice or odor, even when it is crammed in with 300 to 500 others per square foot in clusters covering many square feet. (Look here for more baby bats!)
- Medical science has much to learn from bats, given that they are normally immune to such maladies as cancer and arthritis, as well as to a wide variety of diseases.
- Many bats sing like birds during courtship, and Chapin’s free-tailed bats even have showy crests of white hairs, normally hidden, that can be spread like a peacock spreads its tail.
- Because of their flexible wing membranes, bats are much more efficient and maneuverable flyers than birds or insects.
- Some of the world’s cutest and most colorful mammals are bats, while others are as strange as any dinosaur.