There are two main kinds of bats: insect-eating bats and fruit-eating bats. There are about 700 species of insect-eating bats. The biggest is about the size of a small rat. The smallest, the high-nosed bat of Thailand, sometimes called the bumble bat, rivals the pygmy shrew as the smallest of all mammals. Both the shrew and the bat are around four centimeters long and weigh two grams.

Fish eating bats swoop down out of the sky like an eagle and capture their guppie-size prey with one claw, then while still flight place the fish in their mouth, kill it with a couple of chomps, and then store the fish until later.

Vampire Bats

Vampire bats drink blood and weigh less than an ounce. They feed primarily on cattle and usually circle their prey several minutes before landing. They are not found in Transylvania in Romania. Rather the live in tropical Central and South America. Several rainforest people regard them as delicacies.

"Most agile of bats," bat expert Alan Novick told National Geographic , "the vampire can walk like an ape, scurry like a mouse, or jump like a frog, and stalk its prey on foot. But the bat rarely attacks man." They supposedly make good pets. Novick had one named Gwendolyn that like to hang contentedly from his breast pocket.

Vampire bats have an efficient anticoagulant in their saliva. They drink about a tablespoon of blood by puncturing a shallow wound into the victims skin with is sharp fangs and then lapping up the blood with its tongue. The secret to vampire's success is stealth. The bats have a "light touch and a quick getaway." Most cows never know what hit them. Vampire bats are a problem in some areas because they carry rabies and they can attack individual animals so many times that some livestock becomes weak and less productive.

Pet vampire bats can be trained to take blood from a dish. People live in areas where they are common say the bats bite animals but not people and scoff at stories about people having problems with them. The famous animal behaviorist Konrad Lorenz (of "imprinting" geese fame) once tried to get two vampire bats to bite but said they were too shy to do it.

In the rainforest some people complain about them. "More than once," says adventurer W. Jesco von Puttkamer," asleep in my hammock, I have been awakened by stealthy movement on my toes and found a vampire bat walking about looking for an opening in my blanket so it could make a meal of my blood." [Source: W. Jesco von Puttkamer, National Geographic, January 1979]

Websites and Resources on Animals: ARKive Animal Info ; Animal Picture Archives (do a Search for the Animal Species You Want) animalpicturesarchive ; BBC Animals Finder ; Animal Diversity Web ; International Field Guides ; ; Encyclopedia of Life ; World Wildlife Fund (WWF) ; National Geographic National Geographic ; Animal Planet ; Wikipedia article on Animals Wikipedia ; ; Endangered Animals ; Endangered Species Resource List ; Biodiversity Heritage Library

Websites and Resources: Bat Conservation Trust ; Bat Conservation International ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ;

Merlin Tuttle, the founder and president of Bat Conservation International.

Fruit Bats

Fruit bats are much larger than insect-eating bats. For the most part they eat food other than fruit and lack the sophisticated navigation system of insect-eating bats. Instead they rely on sight and their large eyes.

The brains of fruit-eating bats and insect-eating bats are so different that some scientist believe they descended from a hole different set of animals. Molecular and genetic evidence indicates the two groups share a common ancestor. Fruit bats likely branched off from insect-eating bats some time ago.

Some species feed almost exclusively on plant species that rely on them for pollination, These include bats that feed on cacti, mangroves, and wild eucalyptus. Many of the plants produce flowers the open at night and are white making it easier for the bats to see them and are clear of twigs and leaves so the bats don’t tangle their wings on them. The plants also tend to produce a large quantity of nectar that bats can sense from a long distance away.

Because there is relatively little nutrition in the fruit and so much water bats have to eat a whole lot of fruit. A group of fruit bats have been known to descend on an orchard and destroy a fruit farmer entire crop overnight.

Fruit Eating Bats, Flying Foxes, See Asian Animals

Flying Foxes

Flying foxes are the world’s largest bats. They are distinguished from other kinds of bats in that, for the most part, they use their eyes not echolocation to locate objects. Flying foxes get their names from their foxy faces and some recent neurological and morphological studies have shown that they may be flying primates.

Flying foxes are fruit bats. They are not as big as foxes but they have fox-like faces and reddish fur. There are over 200 species of them scattered across Asia, Africa and the South Pacific — but not in the Americas and Europe. They are most common in tropical Asia, Madagascar, Australia and the South Pacific islands. Southeast Asia is home to many species of flying fox. The Malayan flying fox is the world’s largest bat. It has a body the size of a house cat and wingspan up to five feet.

Flying foxes are dark grey, black or brown in color with a yellow or tawny mantle. Their muzzle is long and slender like a fox’s; the hair on their bodies may be up to a foot long; and their fingers may be as long as their arms. Tendons in their feet allow them to hang upside down without effort. They need muscles to let go. They are quite agile climbing through trees but they can’t walk or sit.

Flying Fox Behavior

During the day, flying foxes sleep upside down in huge groups in trees with their wings folded around them. Several hundred may occupy a single tree and colonies numbering in the thousands often occupy several trees. In the early 20th century there were reports of flying fox “camps” over 4½ miles long and a mile wide, with millions of animals. When they took off they blackened the sky.

Usually one or two of flying foxes stay awake to keep an eye out for hawks or snakes — their natural predators. When these bats fly off it alerts the others of trouble.

Each bat needs its own space. Individuals don’t like to touch other bats. The squawking sound that fruit bat make is often the sound of bats bickering over space as they shift around. At dusk the bats leave their roosts. They can take off en mass or fly one after the other.

Fruits bats urinate when frightened. After disturbing a group roosting in a tree National Geographic photographer Carry Wolinsky said, "I feel a warm rain, smelling oddly like the New York City subway." Flying foxes also have a reputation for shitting partially digested fruit all over people who disturb them.

Flying Fox Feeding

Flying foxes feed primarily on rain forest fruits, figs, nectar and blossoms and, to a lesser degree, tropical fruits like bananas, plantains, breadfruit, and mangoes. Some fruiting plants rely on bats — whose digestive system rapidly processes food without disturbing the seeds — to distribute their seeds through the bat's fecal matter. They also spread pollen like birds and bees in flowering trees. Their long tongues are designed for lapping up nectar. Pollen sticks to their hairy bodies.

The nomadic wanderings of flying foxes is often determined by their search for food. They travel far and wide to find trees that are fruiting or producing nectar-rich blossoms. It is not unusual for a bat to put in 60 miles a night flying from tree to tree in search of food. They suffer greatly when normal fruiting and blossoming patterns are disrupted by droughts, fires or flood. That is often when they are mostly likely to descend on orchards.

Flying Fox Mating

Some species of flying foxes are called epauletted bats because males have large retractable patches of fur that sprout out from pouches in their shoulders during their courtship displays. Female epauletted bats "give birth to a single baby once or twice a year. In some areas these births are closely synchronized with the long and short rains, but in other, births seem to occur throughout the year.

During the mating season males of some species of epauletted bat hang out near street lights flashing the patches of normally hidden fur, secreting attractive odors, singing and honking rhythmically from inflatable sacs in their cheeks and beating their half-closed wings to attract females that apparently need the light to see the males. When rivals land on nearby lamppost the males try to outdo each other by increasing the rate of their calls. The females arrive about 11:00pm and hover about a yard away from the males, checking one out before moving on to the next. When the female chooses the male she wants, her suitor wraps his wings around her so nobody can see.

At dusk mothers carry their babies with them when they fly out to feed, even though, amazingly, some young are two thirds the weight of their mothers and quite capable of flying on their own. The young bat rides clinging to its mother's breast. At feeding sites a baby may fly alongside its mother and even compete with her for food. That same baby may then suckle as it is carried home." During the day nursing young are cradled beneath their mothers' wings, invisible except when they occasionally peek out.

Flying Fox and Humans

Flying foxes have traditionally been regarded as pests because they make a lot of noise, contaminate water supplies, sometime raid orchards, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. In some places a bounty was placed on killing them.

In Australia, they have been shot, poisoned, electrocuted and burned with flame throwers. Burning tires have have been set up below their camps and helicopters, land movers and chains saws have been revved up to produce noise to get rid of them. Some farmers have nets that cover acres of trees. There was even some discussion of introducing typhoid to exterminate them.

But their reputation appears to have been greatly exaggerated. In Australia, in the 1920s, a British biologist was brought in to “discover some whole sale method of destruction which would once and for all relieve the growers of the onus of dealing with the pest.” After his study, the biologist concluded: “The assumptions that the flying fox is a mencase to the commerical fruit quite definitely false...The lose to the commercial fruit so negligible as to be almost trifling.”

Flying foxes have been blamed for spreading diseases such as lyssavirus, a close relative of rabies, the Nipah virus, and the Hedra virus ( See Australia, Malysia).

Some flying foxes and fruit bats are threatened or endangered. Deforestation and loss of habitat has reduced their normal feeding areas and made it more likely for them to raid crops. Large flying foxes are sometimes hunted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some areas, and they are easy targets because they often roost in large groups on the branches of large trees or well light caves.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Mostly National Geographic articles. Also “Life on Earth” by David Attenborough (Princeton University Press), New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2011

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