Bats: Facts, Diet & Habitat

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Bats are some of the most unique members of class Mammalia. What sets them apart, and what are some facts about these winged creatures? Read on to learn more.

One Unusual Mammal

Of all the creatures flying through our skies, there is perhaps none quite as unique as the bat. You may have seen their dark forms emerging at dusk, flapping quickly as they hunt. The subject of many spooky myths and superstitions, these nocturnal animals are not really dangerous. In fact, they are much more helpful in our world than harmful. Join us as we explore the world of bats and dispel many myths surrounding them.

Bats fill the sky after leaving a cave

Facts About Bats

When a dark object goes flying by at sunset, it might be hard to tell if it is a bat or a bird. However, if you could take a closer look, you would immediately see that a bat is covered in fur. A bat is a winged mammal, giving birth to live young and nursing them. In fact, the bat holds the distinction of being the only mammal that can truly fly.

How, exactly, does a bat take to the skies? Let's take a closer look at its wing, which is quite different than that of a bird. A bat's wing is made up of a very delicate and thin membrane. This membrane is stretched between all of its fingers, like a hand with thin webbing. This makes the wing light and easily maneuvered.

Another quite unique aspect of the bat pertains to its sleeping habits. As you may know, the bat not only sleeps during the day but does so hanging upside down. It grips tightly to a branch or cave ceiling, wraps its wings around its body like a cloak, and off to sleep it goes.

Classification of Bats

Bats belong to the order Chiroptera, which literally means ''hand wing.'' It includes over 1000 different species, making it a vastly abundant group. Chiroptera is divided into two main groups, based mostly on size and dietary habits. They include Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera.

Megachiroptera includes the larger bats, as you may have guessed from the name. In the ''megabat'' category we find the flying foxes, among others. Flying foxes are named as such due to their furry foxlike face. They are truly the giants of the bat world, with wingspans of over five feet.

Flying fox soaring overhead
Flying fox

Microchiroptera includes the smaller bats, which are those commonly seen hunting insects at night. The tiniest of the ''microbats'' is the bumblebee bat, which could fit on the tip of your finger.

Dietary Habits of Bats

Bats have quite a variety of eating habits, depending on the type. The megabats feast mostly on fruits and flower nectar. They live in tropical areas where these types of foods are abundant. Interestingly, the fruit eaters also disperse seeds, making them quite the agricultural helpers. Not only that, but they are also essential pollinators as they fly from plant to plant.

Microbats are those that prey on insects. These are the only bats that inhabit the U.S. They dart quickly through the skies, often eating their weight in mosquitoes and other creepy crawlies.

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