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  • Sara Thompson

Brilliant and Baffling Bat Facts

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

There are over 1400 described species of bats worldwide. Behind rodents, they are the second largest classification and make up 20% of all mammal species. Popular culture has contributed to these animals being associated with fear and bad omens, but they are no different to any other animals. Although they do carry diseases that are transferable to humans, by leaving them alone and allowing them their natural space, there is no reason for bats to harm you. These creatures are fascinating and are very different than most other mammals in the world.

Bats are the only mammal to achieve powered flight. While others, such as flying squirrels and sugar gliders, can glide and soar, bats are the only ones that achieve true flight. Unlike birds who have feathered wings, bats have a membrane, called the patagium, that stretches between the arm and down the side of their body. The membrane is further supported by the bat’s modified finger bones that are elongated and evenly spaced in the patagium when the wing is fully extended. The membrane is covered in touch sensitive receptors, similar to our fingertips, that help it sense differences in air current and can make adjustments while in flight.

Even though bats are feared and associated with vampirism, very few species actually feed on blood. Out of the 1400, only 3 feeding exclusively on blood. All remaining species eat either fruit, insects, and a few eat smaller vertebrates such as fish, frogs, and lizards. Typically, the larger species of bat, the more likely it is to feed on fruits, with the smaller ones eating insects.

Bats are nocturnal and use echolocation to maneuver their environments. They send out signals ranging between 14,000-100,000 Hz, many are beyond the hearing capabilities of humans to hear. These signals bounce back and are received by specialized structures in the bats’ ears to navigate their environments or to track prey. The term “blind as a bat” is a misnomer. It is true that bats have small eyes and poor eyesight, but their ability to echolocate makes them very capable of navigating the night. It is likely they are more aware of you than you are of them.

Bats are thought to have evolved to be nocturnal to evade predators during the day. Depending on where they live, the main predators of bats are birds of prey, such as hawks and owls, snakes, cats, and even crocodiles if a bat flies low enough. Bats will roost in bark and damp places such as caves, under bridges, and in logs. They have several modifications that allow them to do their famous upside-down hang. Their legs connect to the hips in a way that they can bend up and outwards during flight. While perched, their tendons naturally want to grasp, and it takes extra effort and muscles to let go.

Bats are a very unique mammal with their echolocation capabilities and ability to have sustained flight. Although they can carry diseases harmful to humans and pets, as long as they are left alone, there is no reason for them to harm you.

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