Mobile homes, suction pads, and some extremely unusual prey…
For reasons we cannot fathom, bats just do not get the love enjoyed by so many of their fellow mammals. They’re often cute, always mysterious, and the only mammals that fly – but they’re also considered bad omens and widely termed ‘rats of the sky’.
We blame stereotypes. Only three species of bat suck blood (that’s 0.002%), and the vast majority are not, and have never been rabid. And no, most bats navigate with advanced echolocation and will not get tangled in your hair.
We reserve particular scorn for the stigma that bats are ‘creepy’, ‘ominous’ or in any way deserve to be associated with Halloween. Sure, they’re (mostly) nocturnal, but so are hedgehogs and bush babies.
Even Batman hasn’t been able to shift the bat’s bad reputation, so we’re going to give it a go ourselves. To mark International Bat Awareness Day, here are seven intriguing species that should give the bat some much-needed PR…
1. Bumblebee bat – Thailand, Myanmar
The bumblebee bat (less popularly, but more accurately known as the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat) weighs less than a one penny piece, and is considered to be the world’s smallest mammal.
With 28 teeth, pig-snout noses, and (on the females at least) an extra set of vestigial nipples, we reckon their cuteness comes mostly from their size.
2. Honduran white bat – Central America
Quite apart from being unspeakably adorable, the Honduran white bat showcases some quite extraordinary sleeping habits. By nibbling around the central stem of a large leaf, these clever critters cause it to sag into a kind of tent, protecting them from predators and the elements.
Its tiny yellow ears and nose are thought to be part of a mating ritual – the yellower the features, the better the prospects for the bat.
3. Fish-eating bat – Mexico
See if you can guess what’s so unusual about the fish-eating bat.
Yep, spot on. Endemic to a few stretches of Mexican coastline, this threatened bat feeds on crustaceans and fish that it plucks from the sea with its long hind claws, and often consumes mid-flight.
These nocturnal anglers are the precision hunters of the bat world – as indeed they need to be. Their echolocation is so sophisticated they can apparently detect the fin of a minnow protruding two millimetres above the surface of the sea.
4. Hammerhead bat – equatorial Africa
OK, we admit it – this bat is pure nightmare fuel. A moose-faced creature from the jungles of central Africa (and possibly the depths of hell), its large, glassy eyes seem to stare straight into your soul.
The enormous snout (a male-only feature) houses a giant larynx used for an extremely loud and sonorous mating call. When mating season comes the males are said to line up and release a cacophony of honking – loudest and deepest wins.
5. Dwarf epauletted fruit bat – equatorial Africa
Scientists continue to insist that bats have their own taxonomic order (‘chiroptera’), and are not related to rodents at all, but we refuse to accept that this is anything other than a flying mouse.
Confusingly this miniature mammal is classed as a megabat – yes, that is a technical term – despite weighing marginally less than an AA battery. Males vibrate their epaulettes (shoulder pads), in order to attract females, and issue a shrill, ringing cry.
6. Sucker-footed bat – Madagascar
Endemic to the forests of Madagascar, these nimble-footed flyers seem to have evolved from the annals of science fiction. Instead of paws these bats have little suckers that stick to surfaces by secreting a wet adhesive.
Think Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Mission Impossible IV, but with the ability to fly if they fall.
7. Pallid bat – USA and Mexico
Resident in the deserts of North America, the pallid bat has a wingspan of up to 16 inches, light-brownish fur, and comically large ears. It can apparently consume up to half its body weight in a single night – a lot even by bat standards – and is known for its strange, lolloping gait while on the ground. Nothing much to see here – cute if a little unremarkable.
Oh, except they eat Arizona bark scorpions, known as the deadliest scorpion in the whole of North America. Never get on this bat’s bad side.