bat pollinating flowers

You may only think about bats when they show up in Halloween decorations. But all year round, bats are important parts of ecosystems all over the world. With the help of Dianne Odegard, public information and training coordinator of Bat Conservation International, we've collected some interesting tidbits about these often misunderstood animals.

Bat Facts

Bats are not flying mice! They are mammals, but they are not rodents. Unlike most small mammals, bats reproduce slowly — the females of most species have only one young per year. And bats live a long time: The record for an insect-eating bat in the wild is 41 years.

Some bats can "see" in the dark with their ears using echolocation: They make high-frequency squeaks and listen for the echoes that bounce back from objects. They can then use those echoes to locate an object as fine as a human hair.

Bats are not blind! In fact, many bat species have excellent vision along with their echolocation abilities, and some fruit bats, which do not echolocate, even see in color.

There are more than 1,300 species of bats. One, the hog-nosed bat in Thailand, is believed by many scientists to be the smallest living mammal in the world. Weighing in at less than 2 grams, its body is about the size of a large bumblebee. The largest bat, the giant flying fox — so called because of its long, pointed snout and large eyes — has a wingspan of up to 6 feet.

Bats' bodies are specially adapted for hanging upside down. Their knees face backward, and they have special tendons that keep their toes holding on to a perch, locking them in place using the bat's own weight. They actually need to flex their muscles to let go rather than to hold on.

Insects are the dietary staple of many bat species. About 30 percent of bats are fruit or nectar eaters. Only about 1 percent of bats are carnivorous, eating mice, fish, frogs and other small vertebrates.

bats hanging upside down

Bat Benefits

Bats are important pollinators. If you've eaten Mexican food lately, thank a bat — nectar-eating bats pollinated the avocados in your guacamole and the agave for the tequila in your margarita.

Bats are important predators of insects: One small brown bat can eat as many as 1,000 small insects in an hour. Scientists estimate that bats save U.S. farmers at least $3.7 billion a year by eating insects that can damage crops and reducing the amount of pesticides that would otherwise be used.

Fruit bats are important to the ecosystem because they disperse seeds, particularly in clear-cut areas that other animals are reluctant to enter.

Are Vampire Bats Real?

Vampire bats really do feed on blood, but they don't suck it; they lap it up. Their saliva contains an anticoagulant that keeps the blood from a bite flowing. Vampire bats take in just a couple of teaspoons of blood at a time, and the animal they've bitten may sleep through the whole thing.

Vampire bats live in Latin America — there are none in the United States — and, in fact, only three of the 1,300 bat species around the world feed on blood.

Vampire bats will adopt orphaned babies, and they'll regurgitate a meal of blood to share with a roost-mate. They help people, too: The anti-clotting enzyme in vampire bat saliva is being studied for treatment of heart disease and strokes.

Read more Vetstreet articles featuring interesting animal facts:

Insects We Love: Fireflies

Pigeons: Unsung Heroes of War

Amazing Animal Facts: Echidnas

The Birds and the Birds and the Bees