Bats

Click the speaker to hear the Bat!

WHAT ARE BATS ANWAY?  Bats are the only mammal that really flies.  (Flying squirrels just glide down from a high spot.)  As mammals, they are warm blooded, have fur, give live birth, and make milk for their babies.  There are over 900 kinds of bats, but only about ten live in northeast Florida.  Most of the bats in Florida are small, with wingspans of less than one and a half feet.  The biggest Eastern US bat only weighs as much as 17 dimes.  Bats are in the scientific order Chiroptera (kie-rop-ter-a), which means “hand-wing.”  This is a good name for bats because their wings are actually made up of long fingers with skin in between.  The skin between the fingers is smooth and strong.  It also connects the bat’s back legs and tail.  The rest of the bat’s body is covered with soft fur.  Florida bats are usually brown, black, or reddish-brown in color.  They have extremely large ears and very sharp teeth.  If frightened, they will bite!
Be sure you NEVER handle a Bat in the wild!
Click here to learn about Bat wings.

WHAT DO BATS EAT?  Almost all bats eat insects.  In fact, one brown bat can eat up to 3000 mosquitoes each night, so bats definitely benefit people!  Since there are lots of insects during the summer, that is the best time to look for bats.  Try looking around light poles.  Insects are drawn to the light, and the bats follow them there.  During the winter, when most of the insects die off, bats don’t have anything to eat.  So, during the summer, they pig out and get really fat, almost doubling their body weight.  There isn’t much to eat during the winter, so some kinds of bats migrate, while others hibernate.

To see a Bat eat a worm, click here! Be sure you NEVER handle a Bat in the wild!

HOW DO THEY HUNT? You’ve probably heard someone say “blind as a bat.”  Actually, bats can see.  But since most bats come out at night or sundown, they don’t rely on their eyes very much.  In the dark, a bat’s excellent hearing is much more important.  Bats keep their big ears very clean.  While they are flying, they make high-pitch squeaks.  Some of these squeaks are too high for people to hear, but the bats hear them.  When those squeaks hit a tree or a bug, the sound bounces back at the bat.  As soon as he hears it, the bat knows what is in front of him.  If it is a tree, he flies around it.  If it’s a bug, he flaps towards it and captures it by wrapping his wings or tail membrane (skin) around it like a scoop.  Then he bites the insect with his sharp teeth.  All this happens while he’s flying, and that’s why bats look like they’re doing acrobatics in the air.   Fancy flying is a bat specialty.  When they are thirsty, they fly low over a lake and scoop up water in their mouth without splashing in!  Most bats do eat insects, but some eat tiny fish, fruit, or pollen and nectar.  In fact, bats pollinate many plants, just like a bee or a butterfly!

HOW DO THEY HANDLE WINTER:  MIGRATE or HIBERNATE?  Most bats live in rain forests and jungles, (which we don’t have in Florida).  So here, bats live in trees or old buildings.  In northeast Florida, bats roost (hang) in a live tree during the warm summertime and live in a hollow dead tree during the cold winter.  When they migrate, they must fly to someplace warm, where there are still bugs to eat.  (This could mean flying 1000 miles to South America.)  If they hibernate, they sleep very deeply in a hollow tree and don’t eat all winter.  When they wake up, they have lost half of their body weight.   But by then, it’s warm outside, and time to go bug-hunting again.

EVER HEARD OF A VAMPIRE BAT?  Everyone has heard of the vampire bat.  Well, don’t worry; they don’t live in Florida.  And they DON’T suck blood.  If they bite a bird or a cow, their spit keeps the blood from making a scab (coagulating).  Then they just lick up a little blood.  Doctors think we might be able to use bat spit to keep blood from coagulating during dangerous heart operations.

WHAT ABOUT BABY BATS?  Some bats live together in big colonies during the winter.  Several hundred males and females may huddle for warmth, hanging upside-down in a cave or old building.  In the summer, only females (girls) live together in a maternity (mother) colony of up to several hundred bats.  Each mother bat has one or two babies in early summer.  The babies cling to their mother’s furry belly and drink milk.  The mothers and babies all huddle together for warmth.  If you ever find a “maternity” or “mother” colony, leave immediately.  If you scare the mothers, they will probably drop their babies and accidentally kill them.  Baby bats can fly after only one month, and are full grown after two or three months.  They live from ten to thirty years. 

HOW CAN WE HELP BATS?  Although owls, hawks, raccoons, and snakes will eat bats, they don’t do it often.  People are the bat’s greatest enemy because we destroy their habitat and disturb their hibernating and maternity roosts.  Today, many people are hanging “bat boxes” on trees near their homes.  These wooden boxes are easy to build and have narrow spaces inside for the bats to sleep.  If you put a bat box up where there are plenty of insects and a source of fresh water, the bats may move in next door!  To find out how to make a bat house, you can write Bat Conservation International, Inc.  PO Box 162603, Austin, Texas  78716-2603, and ask for “Suggestions for Building Bat Houses and Attracting Bats.”  Using fewer pesticides in gardens can also help bats because more bugs means more bat food!

WHAT ABOUT DISEASES?  Just remember, NEVER handle a wild bat!  They bite and can give you rabies.  If you are bitten by a bat, you’ll have to get rabies shots to make sure you don’t get this disease.   The best thing to do is NEVER touch, feed, or approach a wild animal.

Resources:

Harvey, Michael J. Bats of the Eastern United States. Tennessee: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1992.
Bat Conservation International, Inc. "Bat Facts and Amazing Trivia." http://www.batcon.org
Desert USA. "Bats." http://www.desertusa.com/jan97/du_bats.html (27 Jan 1997).

Provided by the Pelotes Island Nature Preserve
http://pelotes.jea.com

Return To Mammal Fact Page
Go to Bat Coloring Page