9 things you might not know about bats

brown bat Photo by Geoffrey Kuchera/Shutterstock

Bats get a bum rap, as most people are creeped out by them or downright terrified of them. But they aren’t all bad. Sometimes they can even be pretty cute. To help you get to know our furry, wing-flapping friends, we’ve compiled 9 bat facts you might not know.

1. Bats are the only true flying mammals

While many mammals, including the flying squirrel, feather-tailed possum, and sugar glider (an arboreal marsupial), have evolved the ability to glide for surprisingly long distances, bats are the only mammal capable of sustained flight. They accomplish this feat thanks to incredibly light, flexible bones in their hands, which spread thin, elastic flaps of skin between them.

2. Bats eat a ton of insects

You probably already knew bats eat insects, but did you know how many they eat? A lot. Over the course of one summer night, a bat will devour hundreds of bugs. So if you’ve ever complained about mosquitoes and bats before, then you contradicted yourself. More bats equal less mosquitoes, so bring on the bats!

3. You’re more likely to get rabies from bats than from any other animal

Most bats don’t have rabies, but according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the few cases of human rabies that are reported in North America each year, the majority are caused by contact with bats.

4. Bats belong to one of the biggest families on the planet

Think you have too many cousins to keep track of at Christmas? Well, according to Wilson & Reeder’s Mammal Species of the World, there are nearly 5,500 recognized species of mammals on the planet, and about 1,240 are species of bats. That’s approximately 20% of all species of mammals!

5. You can find bats almost anywhere on Earth

There are few places in the world where you can escape cohabitating with bats. They inhabit nearly every type of ecosystem, and flight has allowed them to distribute themselves across every land mass, save for the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as a few remote islands. So unless you’re willing to live at one of the poles or in the middle of the Pacific, you’ll need to learn to live with bats.

6. Bats rarely fly in the rain

Scientists have long known that bats don’t like flying in the rain. And while they once long believed it was because rain droplets affected the bats’ sonar and their use of echolocation, a recent study published in the journal Biology Letters suggests that it’s because their fur holds water, increasing their weight and the energy costs of flight.

7. A bat’s wings have the same basic bone structure as your hands

They may be used for wildly different purposes (flying in the case of the bat, and shuffling the euchre deck in the case of cottagers), but bats share the same five-bone structure in their limbs as you and all other mammals. It’s known as the “pentadactyl limb,” and Darwin noted its widespread presence among mammals in On the Origin of Species:

“What could be more curious than that the hand of man formed for grasping, that of a mole, for digging, the leg of a horse, the paddle of a porpoise and the wing of a bat, should all be constructed on the same pattern and should include similar bones and in the same relative positions?”

8. Bats hibernate during the winter

While some Canadian bat species migrate to warmer climates in the fall, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources, five bat species—the little brown bat, the Northern long-eared bat, the Eastern small-footed bat, the big brown bat, and the Eastern Pipistrelle—are known to hibernate in Ontario. These species seek protection from freezing temperatures in caves and abandoned mines, as well as buildings and barns. The body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate of bats decreases dramatically during hibernation, and they must rely solely on stored bodyfat as a source of food.

9. Bats produce one of the world’s best natural fertilizers

Bat manure, known as guano, is the excrement of bats, some seals, and some species of birds. Because of guano’s high content of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium, it’s long been a prized source of natural fertilizer for food.

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