August 3 – Up To Bat

Today’s Factismal: Two species of bats eat other bats.

It would be hard to find a mammal that gets less respect than the bat. Feared, reviled, unfairly labeled – and those are the good parts! And yet, the more than 1,200 species of bat are an essential part of the food chain.

Three out of four bats are insectivores that delight in eating flying bugs such as mosquitoes, gnats, and other noxious critters; all told there are about 900 species of bat that use their sharp hearing to clear the skies of nasty gnats. That leaves aabout 300 species that are fugivores that eat fruit, nectar, or pollen. Among the remaining 200 species or so are oddballs such as bats that eat fish (194 species), bats that eat birds (a dozen species), and bats that eat other bats (two species; the Ghost Bat of Australia and the Spectral Bat of Mexico and South America).

No less varied than their diet are their nesting habits. Some bats live in small colonies, hidden in the cracks and crevices of caves. Other bats live in huge colonies, looking like the oddest fruit possible as they hang from trees. And yet other bats live in solitary family groups, nestled deep in upside-down nests made out of leaves that the bats have chewed into a primitive tent. It is their adaptability in food and home that has made bats the second-most common mammal, after rodents. One in every five mammals is a bat.

Spectacled bats in Australia are frugivores

Spectacled bats in Australia are frugivores
(My camera)

But the one thing all bats have in common is their voracious appetite; flying is a strenuous business that requires lots of calories. As a result, bats will typically eat about 1/3 of their body weight each day. To put that into perspective, a colony of 1,000 insectivorous bats will eat four tons of mosquitoes each year. And fugivorous bats are no less hungry; they’ll munch on and pollinate hundreds of plants such as coconut palms, bananas, peaches, figs, mangoes, cloves, chocolate, balsa, and agave cacti each night. All told, more than 150 different types of plants rely on bats to propagate. And in the rainforest, 90% of the plants rely on bats!

The bublebee bat, a contender for the world's smallest mammal (Image courtesy SciTechDaily)

The bublebee bat, a contender for the world’s smallest mammal (Image courtesy SciTech Daily)

Though they may all have huge appetites, bats range widely in size, from the tiny bumblebee bat (a contender for the world’s smallest mammal) to the giant golden-crowned flying fox (with a five-foot wingspan and four pounds of fruit munching muscle). Not surprisingly, most of the smaller, nimbler bats prefer to feast on flying insects whereas the larger bats prefer the easier prey of hanging fruit.

If you’d like to learn more about bats and how you can help them thrive, then why not visit Bat Detective?

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