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All About Bats

What Are Bats?Cartoon Flying Bat

Bats are mammals. Like other mammals, including ourselves and many of our pets, they have hair or fur on their bodies and are warm-blooded. A baby bat feeds on its mother's milk for at least a few weeks after it is born. Bats are the only mammals that can fly. A bat's wing has very similar bones to the hand and arm of a human, with skin stretched between the very long finger bones and the body to form the wing membrane.Cartoon Flying Bat

Bats are amazing, and there is so much to learn about them! Click on a question below to find out more...

What types of bats do we have in the UK?

Brown long-eared bat (Steve Parker)

In the UK, we are lucky enough to have 17 different types of bats. They range from the tiny pipistrelle bat which is just a few centremetres long, to the larger noctule bat, which is still smaller than an adult's hand! Learn more and listen to their calls!

How big are bats?

A baby bat (Kay Bott)

The body of the smallest bat found in the UK, the pipistrelle, measures only about 4cm long and weighs around 5 grams - that's less than a £1 coin! In comparison the UK's largest bat, the noctule, is almost twice the size and weighs up to 40 grams.

Even the noctule is tiny though compared to the world's largest bat, the Kalong (also known as the Javanese flying fox). It lives in south east Asia and feeds on fruit. With a wing span of almost 2 metres, it's the biggest bat in the world!

What do bats eat?

A Noctule bat eating a moth (JJ Kaczanow)

All bats native to the UK eat insects. Each species has its favourite insects, hunting them in its own special way. Most are caught and eaten in mid-air, though it is sometimes easier to hang up to eat larger prey.

All bats have very big appetites because flying uses up lots of energy. The tiny pipistrelle can eat over 3000 insects in a night!  In winter, when there are fewer insects around for them to feed on, bats go into a deep sleep called hibernation to save energy.  Find out more about what bats are doing at different times of the year.

A fig eating bat (Mike Castle)One of the reasons bats are in danger in the UK is because there are less insects around for them to feed on. Find out what you can do to help!

Some bats in other parts of the world eat fruit, flowers, fish, frogs, blood and even other bats!

Where do bats live?

Bat roost in a tree

Where bats live is called their 'roost.' They roost in different places at different times of the year. Some places bats like to roost are:

  • Trees
  • Caves
  • Bridges
  • Barns
  • Or even houses!

In the winter, when bats go into hibernation, they usually move into caves or disused mines or tunnels, where the temperature is cooler and they won't be disturbed. For several weeks in summer, female bats live together in a 'maternity roost', choosing somewhere warm to have their babies. They stay here until their babies are able to fly and feed themselves.

How do bats find their way around in the dark?

Bats use echoes to find their way around in the dark (S Dalton)

Many people think bats are blind, but in fact they can see almost as well as humans. 
However, at night, their ears are more important than their eyes - they use a special sonar system called 'echolocation,' meaning they find things using echoes.

As bats fly they make shouting sounds, which are too high for most humans to hear (although sometimes children are able to hear them). The echoes they get back from their shouts give them information about anything that is ahead of them, including the size and shape of an insect and which way it is going.

We can hear the sounds bats make using a special instrument called a 'bat detector.'

Why do bats hang upside down?

A greater horseshoe bat hanging upside down (JJ Kaczanow)

If bats hung by their thumbs they would have to let go before spreading their wings. By hanging upside down they are able to spread their wings ready for take-off. They also have a good clear view for both seeing and hearing before flight.

Have you ever wondered why bats don't fall down when they are asleep? The tendons in their legs and feet are designed so that the weight of the bat causes the toes and claws to grip the foothold in the roost firmly, even when the animal is asleep.

In most mammals, including you and me, the knees bend forwards. This would be awkward for bats hanging against a surface, so their knees bend the other way.

Find out more


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Bat Helpline

0845 1300 228