May 27

So, what is the first thing that springs to mind when you think of bats? Ugly? Scary? Spread diseases? Get tangled in your hair? Think again!            

The world’s 1100 bat species are some of our most misunderstood species, surrounded by myths and superstitions. Contrary to their rough reputation, bats help maintain and enhance biodiversity and their economic value to the agricultural industry is worth billions each year.           

The Year of the Bat 2011-2012 is a two-year campaign, launched by The UNEP Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and The Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS), to celebrate the importance of bats in healthy ecosystems and human economies, and promote a greater awareness of bat conservation.      

As the spotlight shines on the masters of the night, ARKive has teamed up with Planet Science and the Year of the Bat team to make our very own quiz! Check out why ARKive thinks bats are simply brilliant and then head to the “Big Bat Quiz” on the Planet Science website.     


Our only true flying mammals, bats have membranous wings, each supported by an arm and four elongated fingers. The large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) fruit bat has the largest wingspan measuring a whopping 1.8 metres. Some bats, such as Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii), have been observed using their wings or tail membrane ‘scoop up’ prey.             

Male large flying fox photo

Male large flying fox with wings outstretched

Most bats are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The smallest is Kitti’s hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai), also known as the bumblebee bat, weighing less than 2 grams.           

Kitti's hog-nosed bat photo

Kitti's hog-nosed bat

Echo. . . echo. . . echo   

Many nocturnal microbats use echolocation. They emit high frequency outbursts and interpret the echoes, building an accurate ‘visual map’ to locate prey. Bat calls range in frequency from 14,000 to well over 100,000 Hz and some bats can use habitat-specific calls. The large-eared horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus philippinensis) hunts moths and other insects and has a nose-leaf and large ears which help with echolocation.           

Large-eared horseshoe bat photo

Large-eared horseshoe bat

Bug buster  

The little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) can consume 600-1000 insects in a single hour! Microbats are the major predators of night-flying insects, many of which are agricultural pests. As bat numbers decline, pests increase and more pesticides are used, increasing the cost of crop production.          

Little brown myotis photo

Little brown myotis in flight

Passionate about plants  

Fruit bats have excellent eyesight and a keen sense of smell to locate over-ripe fruits like mangoes, figs and guavas. More than 300 tropical plant species depend upon bats for either seed dispersal or pollination and many of these are economically important to humans for products including timber, fruits and spices.        

Nectarivorous bats are well adapted to feed on nectar as they have a long snout and tongue. The Mexican long-tongued bat (Choeronycteris Mexicana) is the main pollinator of several agave species.            

Mexican long-tongued bat feeding photo

Mexican long-tongued bat feeding at night on Agave blossom nectar

A socialite with family values  

Some bats like the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) live a solitary life, but others such as the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) live in colonies. Brazilian free-tailed bats form the largest warm-blooded colony in the world; one cave in Texas contains 20 – 40 million individuals! Pups are placed in maternity colonies from which a mother is able to pick out her young.      

Brazilian free-tailed bats photo

Brazilian free-tailed bats emerging at sunset

Sadly an estimated 25% of all bat species are threatened with extinction, mainly due to habitat loss and degradation.          

You can help bats by spreading the word about the Year of the Bat campaign. Why not join your local bat conservation group or build a bat house for your garden?     

Remember to have a go at the “Big Bat Quiz” to find out if  you are a bat boffin or a dingbat. Let us know your score!             

Planet Science logo Year of the Bat logo


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