13 Incredible Bat Facts


Bats get a bad rap: They prefer insects to blood.
Bats get a bad rap: They prefer insects to blood.

It isn't easy being a bat. With Dracula, a few cases of rabies, their pointy teeth, and the fact that they hang upside down to sleep, bats inspire fear in many people. But as you'll see, bats are amazing creatures, even though they eat bugs . . . and sometimes blood.

1. Bats are the only mammals able to fly. And you thought it was the winged marmoset! Bats are exceptional in the air. Their wings are thin, giving them what is called, in flight terms, "airfoil." The power bats have to push forward is called "propulsion."

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2. A single brown bat can catch around 1,200 mosquito-size insects in one hour. In Bracken Cave, Texas, it's estimated that the 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats that live there eat about 200 tons of insects . . . each night.

3. Vampire bats don't suck blood. They lap it up. Calm down. There are only three species of vampire bats in the whole world. If you are traveling in Central or South America, however, you might see a vampire bat bite a cow and then lick blood from the wound -- no sucking involved.

4. Bats don't have "fat days." The metabolism of a bat is enviable -- they can digest bananas, mangoes, and berries in about 20 minutes.

5. Fewer than 10 people in the last 50 years have contracted rabies from North American bats. Due to movies and television, bats are thought to be germ machines, bringing disease and toxins to innocent victims. Not true. Bats avoid people. If you are bitten by a bat, go to the doctor, but don't start making funeral arrangements -- you'll probably be fine.

6. Bats use echolocation to get around in the dark. Bats don't see very well and do a lot of living at night, so they have to rely on navigational methods other than sight. Bats send out beeps and listen for variations in the echoes that bounce back at them and that's how they get around. Bats are nocturnal, mostly because it's easier to hunt bugs and stay out of the way of predators when it's dark. Bats do use their eyesight to see things in the daytime, but most bat business is done under the blanket of night for convenience.

Bats are just misunderstood. They're pretty incredible animals as you'll see on the next page.

Incredible Bat Facts, 7-13

When you finish reading our list of incredible bat facts, you may have a much different opinion of bats than you did before.

7. Bats make up a quarter of all mammals. Yep, you read that right. A quarter of all mammals are bats. There are more than 1,100 species of bats in the world. That's a lot of bats!

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8. More than 50 percent of bat species in the United States are either in severe decline or are listed as endangered. You don't know what you've got until it's gone. Industry, deforestation, pollution, and good old-fashioned killing have wiped out many bats and their habitats. For information on how to help keep bats around, contact your local conservation society.

9. Cold night? Curl up next to a bat! Inside those drafty caves they like so much, bats keep warm by folding their wings around them, trapping air against their bodies for instant insulation.

10. An anticoagulant found in vampire bat saliva may soon be used to treat human cardiac patients. The same stuff that keeps blood flowing from vampire bats' prey seems to keep blood flowing in human beings, too. Scientists in several countries are trying to copy the enzymes found in vampire bat saliva to treat heart conditions and stop the effects of strokes in humans.

11. Bats have only one pup a year. Most mammals of smallish size have way more offspring than that. Think cats, rabbits, and rats.

12. The average bat will probably outlive your pet dog. The average lifespan of a bat varies, but some species of brown bat can live to be 30 years old. Considering that other small mammals live only two years or so, that's impressive.

13. Bats wash behind their ears. Bats spend more time grooming themselves than even the most image-obsessed teenager. They clean themselves and each other meticulously by licking and scratching for hours.

Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen