Bats have received a bad reputation as being bloodsuckers, carriers of disease and “flying rats,” All of these descriptions are wrong and fail to grasp the beauty, wonder, and benefits of bats.
There are over 40 species of bats in the United States and all of them are beneficial to people. Most bats feed on insect pests and some bats even help in pollination. Scientists study bats to further expand our understanding of flight, sound, sonar and evolutionary biology. Even bat guano is an important resource and fertilizer! So before you tell scary stories about bats, remember how much they help make our lives better every day!
The majority of bats in the U.S. are insectivores. They hunt at night and eat flying insects such as mosquitoes, beetles, and moths, many of which are considered pests. Bats provide an important ecological service by eating tons of insects. In a single midsummer night, the 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats from Bracken Cave in central Texas eat more than 200 tons of insects! Not all bats eat insects. Some live on a diet of nectar and fruit. Bats that feed on nectar also serve as pollinators to nighttime blooming plants. Vampire bats do exist, but there are none in the U.S. The closest vampire bats are found in Mexico.
The smallest bat in the U.S. is the western pipistrelle bat which grows to about 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 inches long with an 8-inch wingspan. The largest bat in the U.S. is the greater mastiff bat. It can grow as long as 7 inches or more with a wingspan of 21 to 23 inches. Bats are very lightweight to make it easier to fly. The western pipistrelle bat weighs less than a penny, while the greater mastiff bat weighs about 2 oz.
Bats can be found in almost every type of habitat. They live in deserts, woodlands, suburban communities, caves, and some are even found in cities. Bats make their homes (roosts) in a variety of different structures. They can use trees, caves, cracks in buildings, bridges, and even the attic of a house! The largest urban colony of bats in the U.S. lives under Austin, Texas’ Congress Avenue Bridge during the summer. The Congress Avenue Bridge becomes a temporary home to over 1.5 million Brazilian free-tailed bats! Bats typically prefer warmer temperatures and they have several ways of dealing with the cold. Some bats, including the big brown bat and the eastern red bat, hibernate in caves and trees to survive the winter. They can sometimes be seen flying around on warm winter days. Many bats migrate to warmer climates or even to a nearby cave.
Bats are found throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The Hawaiian hoary bat is the only native, terrestrial mammal on the Hawaiian Islands. Bats can even be found in Alaska!
Despite being small, bats can have a relatively long lifespan. Bats that make it to adulthood can live into their teens; a rare few into their twenties. The hard part is making it to adulthood because there is a high mortality rate for young bats.
Life, History, Reproduction & More
Bats are mainly nocturnal, and your best chance of spotting one in flight is at dawn and dusk. They fly very quickly and can make fast maneuvers. It can be a real challenge to identify species of bats when they are in flight.Bats congregate in large roosts during their winter hibernation/migration. In the fall and winter months, many species breed so that the offspring are born in the late spring. The births are timed with the return of insect prey.Bats can have more than one offspring at a time. The babies are born furless, blind and without the ability to fly. They are completely dependent on their mother. However, it only takes a few weeks for the young bats to develop and start to fly.
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