Oct 15 2009

Daily Discoveries: the facts on bats

Bat Hanging Out

Bat Hanging Out

By Jennifer Barbour

It is that time of year when bats are everywhere. Too many people only associate these flying mammals with the spooky Halloween decorations and vampire movies that play on late night television every October. There are so many myths about bats that I thought it would be good to share some facts so we can all have a better understanding of this valuable member of the twilight sky:

MYTH: Bats are flying rodents.

FACT: Bats are more related to monkeys and lemurs than they are to rodents. They are such unique animals that scientists have placed them in a group all their own, called Chiroptera, which means ‘hand-wing’.

MYTH: Bats are blind and with get caught in my hair at night.

FACT: Most bats can see as well as humans. Fruit bats can see in color, having eyesight much like cats, and are well adapted to low light. Bats are also equipped with a built-in sonar system that allows them to navigate at fast speeds through total darkness without running into objects along the way, including a full head of hair. This is called echolocation.

MYTH: Bats are ugly and dirty.

FACT: Most bats are smaller than the palm of your hand and have very cute faces. They also spend an enormous amount of time each day grooming their fur to keep it clean and soft.

MYTH: All bats are vampires and suck blood.

FACT: Of the world’s 1100+ species, only three are vampire bats, and their territory is mostly limited to Latin America. Vampire bats are very small (about the size of a package of M&Ms) and do not attack humans or suck our blood; they prefer to get their teaspoon-sized meals from other animals. The remaining 1097 or so species of bats eat insects, fruit, nectar and pollen. A few species eat fish and frogs. Insect-eating bats eat billions of insects each summer. They protect our crops and keep our costs down at the market place. Fruit bats bring us over 450 commercial products and 80 medicines through pollination and seed dispersal. Over 95% of rainforest re-growth comes from seeds that have been spread by fruit bats.

MYTH: Bats only live in caves.

FACT: While some bats do occupy caves, many species live in trees and man made structures such as buildings, barns, and bridges.

To learn more about bats and to spot a few local species, come join one of our Naturalists for a night beach walk on Kiawah Island. Call the Nature Center at 768-6001 for more information. Contact your local wildlife resource if you find an injured bat or have problems with their occupancy in your home.

About the Author: Jennifer is a Naturalist with the Kiawah Island Nature Program. To contact her with comments or personal stories, email her at

* Information from Bat Conservation & Management, Bat World Sanctuary, and Southeastern Outdoors was used in this article.

Bat facts:

Bats are among the slowest reproducing animals on earth. Most bat species have only one young per year.

The average lifespan of a bat is 25 – 40 years.

Bats make up over 20% of all mammal species and are the only mammal species that flies.

45 species of bats are in danger of extinction. An increasing number of bats in the northeastern United States are dying from a strange fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome.

A single brown bat can catch more than 1,200 insects per hour.

Fewer than .5% of bats have rabies.

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