Bats belong to an order of animals known as Chiroptera, meaning "wing hand." Bats, although they can fly, are not birds. They are actually mammals. Mammals are animals that give birth to live babies, feed their young and have fur or hair.
Bats are the only mammal that can fly. They can accomplish this because of their powerful wings which are very similar to human hands. Their wings are formed by skin which is stretched over four extremely long finger-type bones. They even have thumbs. Besides flying, bats use their wings for grasping and holding on to food and their young.
Fossils of ancient bats have been found which indicate that bats have not changed much in 50 million years. There are about 1000 species of bat in the world today and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Bats are nocturnal and sleep in roosts such as caves or trees during the day. Depending on what is available in the area where they live, bats have been known to roost under bridges, in buildings, under logs, in barns, and even under large palm tree leaves. They hang upside down from claws on their feet ‐ often in large groups. They are hunted by birds of prey, snakes, and other carnivores and even other bats. Humans have been known to fear bats and so kill them out of that fear or because the bats have become pests.
Different species of bats have different food preferences. Some bat species eat small rodents , birds, frogs, lizards, and smaller bats. Others feast on insects. Most bats are fruit eaters and are important to the spread of fruit seeds in the environment. Still a very few others will feed off the blood of large animals such as cows and horses by puncturing their skin with their fangs and licking the blood from the wound. There are even a few bat species who will fish for their dinner by flying over the water and snatching the fish up; much the same way as a bird of prey.
Baby Bat Pups
Infant bats are known as pups and are usually born as single infants but can sometimes be born as twins. A few will be born in larger litters.
Infant bats are very small when born and require the care of their mother for food, warmth and protection. The pup clings to the mother during roosting and could die if it lets loose and falls. When the mother bats leave the nest to find food, they count on the fact that the pups from all the other mothers will huddle together for warmth and safety. Upon the return of the mothers, infants and mothers will quickly locate each other through smell and voice recognition. Baby bats grow quickly and can usually fly by the end of their first month.
Because they are nocturnal, most bats find their way around in the dark through a system known as echolocation. They are capable of producing high pitched squeaks which bounce off of objects as an echo. These sounds are often not audible to humans. By hearing the echo as it returns, the bats can sense the location of objects. They can also tell distance, size, texture, and speed of travel. Their huge outer ears help to gather this information more effectively than many other animals. This allows them to distinguish between prey and non-prey objects. They can also hear the sounds made by their prey such as croaking frogs and buzzing insects.
Bats provide several useful benefits to humans. They eat huge numbers of insects which provides natural pest control that is a benefit to crops and animals. The spread of fruit seeds is a natural benefit that comes from bats eating the fruit containing seeds and then depositing those seeds in other areas through their waste. The seeds will then germinate and grow more of those plants. They also help to pollinate plants in much the same way as bees and butterflies do by collecting pollen on their bodies when they eat. In some areas of the world, the bat excrement (known as guano) is gathered from caves and used as fertilizer for farms and gardens. There are even places where the bats are a huge tourist attraction. And in some areas of the world bats are even used as food ‐ yup how about a nice bat sandwich!!
Bats can also have some negative effects, as well. Many species are known to carry rabies which can be passed through their bite and is highly dangerous. This danger is especially concerning to herds of cattle or other stock, but can also be passed to humans.
Bat waste (guano) is known to have a severe, unpleasant odor. When bats gather in caves or buildings, this collection of waste can become a nasty problem for owners and communities. Roosts of bats forming in old warehouses or abandoned buildings can create a nuisance.
Vampire bats, which live in South America, do not turn into vampires. But they do lick blood from cattle and horses. Scientists are interested in the bat saliva of vampire bats, because it has the ability to stop blood from clotting. This might help patients in hospitals who have had strokes or bleeding issues.
Building backyard habitats for bats has become a new conservation effort in many communities. Bat houses are being constructed to provide shelter for bats to roost. People do this to help eliminate mosquitoes from pestering them and to provide shelter where shelter is difficult for bats to find. Because forests have been reduced in size in many places of the world, bat houses take the place of the trees. Providing bat houses also discourages bats from roosting in our houses, barns or attics. Find out more about bat houses, what makes a good bat house, and how to create one that bats will love to make their home.
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