Numerous and Loud

There are a lot of bats. They account for a fifth of all mammal species and are more widely distributed, and come in a wider range of shapes and sizes, than any other mammalian order except rodents.

They are the only mammal so far to sprout wings and fly, opening up a whole new world of habitats and food sources. Their order name Chrioptera means ‘hand wing’, and their wings remain, recognisably, hands: a thumb and four fingers. If human hands grew in the same proportion to our bodies as bats’ ‘hands’, our fingers would be almost 7ft long and thinner than knitting needles.

The largest-ever gatherings of mammals are the 50-million strong roosts of the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana) whose ‘evening;’ evacuation has to start in the mid-afternoon to allow them all time to exit.

Inside the ‘nursing’ roosts, there are more than 1,500 babies per square foot, yet the mother bats use sound and smell to feed only their own offspring. The females ‘conceive’ while hibernating, warming up in their sleep as the wandering males caress them. The sperm stays alive inside the female until they wake in the spring and the eggs are finally fertilised.

Vampire Bats

Common vampire bats are the only species of mammals which feed exclusively on blood, though the techniques they use to collect this blood may surprise you, especially if your knowledge of these creatures has come from bad horror movies. Folklore may have vampire bats as dangerous predators, swooping down onto humans and sucking their blood, but this image is so incorrect it is tough to know where to begin. Firstly while vampire bats will drink human blood, they much prefer to target larger, slower moving animals such as cows. Secondly they do not suck blood: vampire bats bite into their prey, causing blood to flow which they then lap up like a cat. They don’t swoop down to their victims; the bats will land a couple of feet away from their meal before hopping and crawling over to the animal on all fours.

If you are unlucky enough to be bitten by a vampire bat, the most likely part of your body to be targeted is your big-toe. It’s fairly unlikely that you will notice the bite though - vampire bats lick the skin before penetrating it, and their saliva contains both an anti-coagulant which keeps the blood flowing and an anaesthetic which numbs the pain from the bite. A drug developed from the anti-coagulant, appropriately called draculin, is used to treat heart attacks and strokes by thinning the blood.

As well as helping humankind, vampire bats show a great deal of kindness to their fellow bat. Common vampire bats cannot last more than a couple of days without a meal and unsuccessful forays are relatively common, so they often have to rely on gifts from their friends. A hungry vampire bat will meet another face-to-face and begin begging for a meal, grooming the more successful animal. Eventually the grateful bat will receive a regurgitated meal, safe in the knowledge that he will soon repay the favour. 

Eating Bats

The Chamorro people of Guam are one of the only populations in the world to prize bats as a delicacy. One popular recipe is bat in coconut cream. Sadly the Chamorro also suffer an incredibly high incidence of a condition known to the locals as lytico-bodig, which combines the symptoms of Parkinson's and motor neurone disease. It seems that this may be linked to their unusual diet.

The seeds of cycad plants, common on Guam, contain highly toxic chemicals that the bats eat in abundance; it is thought that they pass on the deadly poisons to the humans who eat them. 


D. H. LAWRENCE (1885-1930)

Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags
And grinning in their sleep. Bats!

Bats breathe 200 times a minute when flying but only 10 times an hour when hibernating.

Without bats, there would be no tequila. It's made from the agave plant, which is pollinated by bats.

W. H. AUDEN (1907-73)

When did the bed-bug
first discover
that we were tastier than bats?

Bats groom themselves for an hour a day, rubbing their wings with oil from glands on their faces.

The long-tongued fruit-bat sleeps by day in a rolled-up banana leaf.


I got rabies shots for biting the head off a bat but that's OK - the bat had to get Ozzy shots.