When the sun goes down, the stars begin to light up the sky and all the nighttime creatures emerge, you better be careful not to be attacked by a ferocious bat, right? Wrong! Perhaps you’ve heard some pretty spooky things about bats, and although they make for entertaining stories, what exactly is the real deal on these winged beings?
We recently asked some kids what they thought of bats—to try and debunk the usual myths. We weren't surprised, though, that our ISF kids are a smart bunch and didn’t buy into too many of those myths! Read on to find out what they thought, and learn about your own possible misconceptions regarding bats.
Are Bats Blind?
“I think they’re blind, that’s why they use echolocation.” —Dylan, 11
The truth is that bats can see! According to discovery.com, NONE of the roughly 1,100 species of bats are blind. Some bats can even see better than humans. But, Dylan, you are partially correct that bats rely on echolocation. Echolocation means that bats emit a high-pitched sound, and listen for the echoes of the sound waves to locate obstacles in their path, and even to track prey and avoid predators. Bats’ brains are able to make “visual maps” with the auditory information from these echoes, discovery.com states. So in a sense, bats are using this to help them see. But still, it doesn’t explain where the phrase “blind as a bat” came from.
Do bats really suck blood? What do they eat?
“Bats eat other animals.” —Mason, 5
The answer to whether bats suck blood: well, yes and no. Most bats do not suck blood. As we said, there are many species of bats, and depending on the type, they may eat insects, flowers, fruits, nectar, pollen and leaves, according to livescience.com. But, the exception—vampire bats—do feed on blood from cows, pigs, horses and birds. According to National Geographic Kids, bats don’t really suck the blood, but rather make a small cut with their teeth and lap up the flowing blood. Often, the bats are so subtle about it that they can feed for 30 minutes without even waking the animal, and their feeding does not harm the other creature.
If a vampire bat doesn’t get its nightly meal for two nights in a row, it will likely die. Another very interesting fact though—well-fed bats will sometimes regurgitate blood to share with other bats who need it in exchange for grooming! That certainly gives a new meaning to sharing your lunch with a friend!
When do bats sleep?
“They sleep during the day and they hunt at night.” —Tessa, 9
As you may have guessed, Tessa is correct; bats are nocturnal! Bats come out at night looking for a meal, and sleep during the day as they hang upside down. Bats sleep this way—in a high, secluded spot—for a couple of reasons, including hiding from predators and being in the ideal position to take off in flight. Bats have unique talons that are able to lock onto a surface so they can easily relax and sleep without falling off, according to animalquestions.org.
What is the coolest thing about bats?
“The coolest thing is their wings! I love how they look like rubber and they make them fly.” —Troy, 7
What an excellent description of bats’ wings, Troy! In this case, there is no wrong answer because we can find many cool things about bats. Just think of the fact that they are the only flying mammal, and that in itself is pretty interesting.
Why do bats matter?
A common misconception about bats is that they don’t matter or are simply pests. This could not be further from the truth. Sadly, many areas of the world are finding this out as they watch more and more bats become threatened and endangered. Bats matter because they are pollinators, and they are key in dispersing seed for a healthy rainforest, according to an article on nationalgeographic.com. Bats pollinate bananas, avocados, and nearly 300 other plant species, as stated in an article by National Geographic and the U.S. Forest Service. In addition, by eating thousands of bugs each night, bats provide non-toxic pest control—without this, many crops suffer.
*Photo courtesy of Zach Boles. Drawings courtesy of Annaliese and Tessa.