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All About Bats

By: Molly Schwichtenberg

Bats are fascinating animals that live around the world. Some species of bats exist in high numbers, while others are declining and endangered. Nine species of bats in the United States are threatened. Bats live longer than most other mammals, with the longest known lifespan of a bat in the wild being 30 years.

Size

Bats have two main types, known as megabats and microbats. The megabats include Old World fruit bats and flying foxes, which are larger animals. Microbats are usually smaller, although some can be larger than megabats. Flying foxes are the largest bats, with some having wing spans of up to 6 feet and weighing slightly more than 2 pounds. The long-tongued fruit bat is the smallest megabat, with a wingspan of 10 inches and a weight of a half-ounce. The largest microbat is the spectral bat, which has a wingspan of 40 inches and a weight of about 5 to 6 pounds. The smallest microbat is the bumblebee bat, only weighing 2 grams.

Habitat

Bats live everywhere on Earth except for a few islands, the Arctic, and Antarctica. Bats prefer warm environments, and they often live in rainforests, farmland, and woods. Some bats migrate to warmer areas during the winter, and others go into torpor, which is short-term hibernation.

Bats will roost anywhere they can find shelter from the weather and protection from predators. This may include barns, houses, mines, caves, or trees. A colony of bats may have up to 1,000 bats in it. During the nighttime hours, bats may fly as far as 31 miles to find food.

Diet

Bats eat small insects, fruit, nectar, pollen, leaves, and flowers. Megabats eat fruits, while microbats eat insects. The Malayan flying fox is capable of eating up to half of its body weight each day. Vampire bats may eat twice their weight in a day. Bats that eat fruit will often squeeze the fruit in their mouths to extract the juice. Vampire bats usually suck blood from cattle and deer.

Mating Habits

Bat mating occurs in late summer and early fall. Male and female bats pair off and breed in hibernation sites, which are called hibernacula. Mating rituals include swarming around in large numbers, chasing each other, and flying in fancy formations. Females may be attracted to the most agile males, with agility exhibited during the swarming events. After pairing off, the male and female will go to a secluded spot to mate. Females store the sperm in their bodies until the next spring. A pregnant bat has a gestation period of between 40 days and six months. Bats give birth to one baby, and the pup will weigh about one-quarter of the mother's weight at birth. Baby bats drink their mothers' milk. Mothers and babies sequester themselves from the males. Mother bats help take care of all of the young in their group.

Classification/Taxonomy

The taxonomy of bats is as follows:

Conservation Status

Many bat species are threatened with extinction, and more than 250 species are listed as endangered or vulnerable. The most endangered bat is Bulmer's fruit bat, which lives in a single cave in Papua New Guinea. There may only be about 160 bats left in this colony. Bats in North America are dying due to a disease called white-nose syndrome. This fungus has killed hundreds of thousands of bats.

Additional Resources