Bats of the World
Bats are found almost everywhere in the world. There are bats in the far north of Scandinavia, as well as in the deserts of the south-western USA. The only places on Earth with no bats are the Arctic, Antarctic and a few isolated Oceanic islands. The tropics have the biggest variety of bat species: Indonesia has 175 species of bats (about ten times the number of species found in the UK). Central and South America are home to almost one third of the world's bats species.
In some parts of the world, bats are revered. In China they are considered symbols of good fortune! But in many places, bats are feared and misunderstood and in many countries bat are not protected – despite falling bat numbers. Globally, bats face many pressures. This can be especially true on islands where they have to contend with cyclones and typhoons that can devastate their habitat. Even in the UK, bats might be affected by long bouts of cold, wet, windy weather – such weather means there are fewer insects flying for bats to feed on, and it can make hunting for insects more difficult. Read more about threats to bats in the UK. Habitat loss, hunting, changing climate and a deadly fungus are all having an impact on bat populations around the world. Our iBats project is monitoring bat population changes globally to try and understand more.
Bats survive in some extreme environments and often have unique adaptions for hunting and roosting. The tube-lipped nectar bat of Ecuador has an extraordinarily long tongue – more than one and a half times the length of its body – so that it can reach the nectar at the bottom of long, tubular flowers. This bat stores its tongue in a special sleeve in its chest cavity (scaly anteaters do the same thing)! The eastern sucker-foot bat has ‘suction pads’ on its wrists and ankles, which allow it to roost head up in the very smooth and shiny central leaf of the Traveller’s tree in Madagascar. Horseshoe bats have wonderful ears and elaborate facial features specially adapted for their unique form of echolocation. Bats truly are amazing creatures!
The famous Dracula novel by Bram Stoker has given bats a bad name - here are some facts about vampire bats to give the full picture.
- Vampire bats don’t live in Transylvania. There are three species and they all live in Central and South America.
- Vampire bats rarely feed on human blood. They much prefer the blood of cattle, horses, pigs and birds.
- A vampire bat doesn’t actually ‘suck’ blood, it makes a graze on its host’s skin to encourage a flow of blood and then laps this up with its tongue.
- Vampire bats are small. The commonest is only 7cm to 9cm long and takes approximately a tablespoon of blood each night.
- Vampire bat colonies have often been culled because it was believed this would stop the spread of rabies. However, recent research indicates that killing these bats does not reduce rabies and can in fact be counterproductive.
- Vampire bats are caring towards members of their colony. Apart from behaviour such as mutual grooming, they will even take care of others who are unable to feed by regurgitating the blood they have collected!
Tent-making bats are remarkable animals that live mainly in Central and South America. There are a number of species of tent-making bat.
- Tent-making bats are so called because of their roosts. They construct ‘tents’ out of big leaves by nibbling beside the main stem and pulling the sides of the leaf down.
- Some bat species are thought to take over ‘tents’ made by other bats instead of making their own!
- There are only a few species of bat worldwide that construct their own roosts. Three bat species in India and South East Asia also roost in ‘tents’.
- Recent research into seed dispersal in the forests of Central and South America suggests that tent-making bats might be playing a crucial role in the dispersal of up to 65 large-seeded plant species. Read more on our blog!