Scary bloodsucking bats may alarm you on Halloween, but there’s much more to these mysterious creatures than fright!
Bats are mysterious creatures to most people. So many people have never even seen one up close, yet they are widespread throughout much of the world. This is most likely because bats are very shy, and they are nocturnal. They sleep during the daytime and then come out at night to hunt.
Because of their secretive nature not much is known about them. Bat Conservation International says bats are generally misunderstood, often disliked, and a cause of inexplicable fear for many people.
Through the ages bats have been part of scary stories and myths. They are often depicted as evil spirits, especially on Halloween. During this haunting holiday stories abound. Witches may use bat wings in their brew to conjure up nasty spells. They are often blood sucking companions of vampires, ghouls and other nasty specters of the night. Images of Dracula have him almost always surrounded by bats, and at times he may even turn into a bat!
Yet these are not the dangerous, frightening creatures of a Halloween haunt. In fact they are quite the opposite. They are gentle little animals that do a lot of good in the world. As nighttime predators they keep the insect population of the world in check. They feed on night-flying insects, but also on mosquitoes and many of the crop destroying bugs. Fruit and nectar eating bats help scatter the seeds of the fruits they feed on, and they pollinate many trees and shrubs as well.
Myths, stories, and old wives’ tales abound. They are filled with many scary ideas about bats and there’s also lots about them that is more recently becoming known. So let’s look as some facts and debunk the crazy stories!
Here are 7 of the myths, mysteries, and unknowns filled in with the facts:
Myth: Bats are cold-blooded birds
They are often thought of as birds or flying rodents. But bats are actually mammals just like dog, cat, and yes… even people.
Like all mammals they are warm-blooded, they give live birth, and their newborn babies nurse from their mothers.
Bats are the only mammals that can fly! They have wings just as birds do, but they don’t have feathers, rather their skin is covered with fur.
Some bats will take off from the ground, but most will fly off of cave walls, trees, or barn roofs.
Like flying squirrels their wings are made up of thin connecting membranes of skin between their limbs. For bats however, they are wings. Flying squirrels do not have wings and can’t actually fly. These squirrels can only spread their limbs out and use the membranes to glide across the tree tops.
Myth: Bats are huge, monstrous creatures
Bats are actually mostly small creatures that can fit in the palm of your hand. There are only a few extreme-sized bats and they are found in Asia. The tiniest of these is the size of a bumblebee while the largest is about 2 pounds, but with a wingspan of almost 6 feet.
Mystery: Bats live in caves
Many bats do live in caves, but they have many other homes as well. Because they are nocturnal they need good roosting places for sleeping during the day and for hibernation in the winter.
They will live in trees and bushes as well as hollow termite mounds and even spider webs. Some bats will even make themselves a tent-like home by cutting leaves.
Close to human environments they will also live in fence posts, barns, attics, and sometimes buildings. Some people even build bat houses for them.
To roost they have specially designed tendons in their legs that make it possible for them to hang upside down. Millions of bats can be seen in large caverns where their bodies are packed so closely they look like sardines.
Myth: Bats are blind
No they are not “blind as a bat!” Bats can see very well. Even on the darkest of nights they can see, though perhaps not always in a conventional manner!
Some bats do see with their eyes but many bats see with their ears!
A natural sonar, or echolocation system, allows some bats to “see” with their ears. They can follow and catch their prey in total darkness. They send out a series of small squeak type sounds, called ultrasonic pulses, which bounces off their prey and sends an echo back to their ears. These squeaks are so high pitched that people can’t hear them.
Not all bats have this natural sonar however. Those that are primarily fruit eaters don’t need this ability. They can rely on sight and smell because their food isn’t live prey.
Mystery: Bats are blood-suckers
Bats do not “suck” blood, though a few species will lap up blood. There are tons of different bat species. They are found in just about every sort of environment and feed on the available foods found there. Most bats live in tropical areas but they are also found from swamplands to deserts, and some even live where it is extremely cold.
- Insect eaters
Most bats are insect eaters feeding primarily on flies, mosquitoes, moths, and beetles, but with an occasional grasshopper, cricket or even scorpion thrown in. They love to eat and need a lot of food because they use so much energy in flying. Some bats will catch as many as 3,000 insects in a single night!
- Fruit and nectar eaters
Many bats eat nectar and fruits, Photo Wikimedia courtesy Ken Bosma
Most bats live in warm tropical areas where they feed on insects, fruit, or the nectar of flowers. Those that feed on nectar have long tongues that they use to reach deep into flowers to where the nectar is.
- Meat eaters
There are a few meat eaters that consume fish, frogs, mice, and birds. These bats use their natural sonar system in a similar manner to the insect eaters when searching for aquatic prey. As they skim the surface they send out signals across the water surface to detect ripples where fish are feeding. To catch an animal in the water they scoop down and grab it with their feet.
- Blood eaters
Only a very few bats feed on blood, Photo Flickr Courtesy Robertsphotos1
But there are only a very small number that feed on the blood of large animals, mostly cattle and horses. They use heat sensors in their nose to find flowing blood. Then they land and walk quietly up to the animal, make a small slit in the skin, and lap up the blood. The animals barely feel it, of at all, and generally don’t even wake up.
Myth: Bats are dirty
Actually bats are extremely clean. They spend a good deal of time grooming themselves, much like your cat.
Mystery: Bats are rabid
Bats are not carriers of rabies any more than other animals. They can get rabies however, much like your dog or squirrels in the park. Because they are wild animals it’s best not to touch them. If you find a bat on the ground it could be sick, and trying to pet it could scare it and cause it to bite.
Clarice Brough is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.