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Bats in a nutshell!

A quick introduction to bats, where they live, what they do, and why they are so cool!
Where do bats live?

Bats live all around the world! The only places they do not live are where it is very very cold, like Antarctica. There are over 1,400 different species of bats! This makes up 20% of known mammals (Batcon, n.d.; BatLife Europe, n.d.; Harvey et. al, 2011).


Figure 2. Classification breakdown of bats, 2020. Source: courtesy of the author.

What are bats?

Bats are nocturnal mammals. They are in the order Chiroptera which in Greek means “hand wing.” Their wings are shaped similar to human hands with 5 digits (or fingers) but have a wing membrane connecting the digits allowing bats to fly. There are two suborders of bats. Microchiroptera and Megachiroptera (Nunez, n.d.; Wilson, n.d.)


Microchiroptera consists of 17 different families of bats that tend to be smaller. Although they do have eyes and can see, Microchiroptera bats use echolocation or sonar (sound waves) to detect their surroundings and prey such as insects. The three species of vampire bats are included in this suborder (Nunez, n.d.; Prokop et. al, 2009; Wilson, n.d.).


Image 1. Picture of little brown bat, 2010. Source: courtesy of the author.


Megachiroptera tend to be larger bats that consist of Flying Foxes and old world fruit bats. These make up just 20% of all bat species and only consist of one family (Pteropodidae) that mainly eat fruit and some eat flowers. They do not echolocate but have a very  good sense of smell (Nunez, n.d.; Wilson, n.d.)

Image 2. Black and white short coated puppy: Photo by José Ignacio García Zajaczkowski

What do they do?

Insectivorous bats (bats that eat insects) are the main predator of night flying insects. Each bat can eat 50% or more of its own body weight in insects. These insects not only include mosquitoes but also agricultural pests (Batcon, n.d.; Harvey et. al, 2011).


Over 500 plants depend on nectar-feeding bats to pollinate their flowers. Some of these include bananas, mangoes, and agave (Bat Conservation Trust, n.d.).


Similarly some plants rely on frugivorous bats (bats that eat fruit) to disperse their seeds. Bats will eat fruit such as figs, fly to other areas in a forest, poop out the seeds, and new saplings (baby trees) will grow. This assistance in reproduction is important for the survival of the plant species and other animals that depend on these plants (Primmack, 2010).


Image 3. Illustration of little brown bat and the Earth, 2020. Source: courtesy of the author.

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