The bats or chiropterans are an order of mammals that can be found in practically all regions of the world, with the exception of the polar areas. However, within bats we find a multitude of species with different characteristics, such as sizes, and some common ones, such as mammals that can fly.
What are bats like: main characteristics
Bats are the only order of mammals that have the ability to fly . In the image below you can see the detail of a bat’s wing.
The size of the different species of bats is variable. The smallest known species of bat, the blowfly bat species , measures only about 30 mm in length and weighs about 2 grams, while the largest species identified, the so-called Philippine flying fox , can measure slightly more than 1.5 m in length and weigh about 1.2 kg.
The different species of bats provide ecological benefits either as pollinators, seed dispersers, help the reproduction of some tropical plants or act as a control for different insect pests such as lobster, which affect thousands of hectares of crops every year.
Where bats live
Bats have various habitats, although they prefer caves, trees, logs, crevices, and other hollow, moist places. In general, any habitat that has enough food, a suitable temperature, and a safe place to sleep and hibernate.
The bat’s diet is omnivorous and highly varied and depends on the species, being able to feed on insects, reptiles, birds, amphibians, spiders and other arthropods, mammals, pollen, nectar, leaves, fruits, carrion or even blood (they are known only three hematophagous species). Bats generally feed at night and rest during the day. Usually, they do it in groups, leaving their caves, caves or holes in groups of up to 50 million individuals to look for prey. This happens, for example, in the case of the mouse-tailed bat.
Bats, like dolphins and some cetaceans, use the method of echolocation to detect obstacles, orient themselves, position prey more effectively, or to communicate with each other. Echolocation consists of the emission of sounds that generate echoes and the detection of their return, which they detect with a fairly developed auditory system. Once this sound is received, they process the information to orient themselves in space. Although they have a highly developed auditory system, their sense of sight is not.
Bats reach sexual maturity around 12 months of age. The reproductive behavior of bats varies by species. In some species, they cluster in trees and mate with several members close to them, other species form harems with some females, others opt for monogamy, and other species of bats copulate while the female is in hibernation.
Bats are viviparous animals and the gestation period is highly variable, lasting between 40 days and 10 months. After this, they usually give birth to a young, although sometimes there can be two. They generally have one litter per year , with the exception of the Lasiurius genus , which can reach four litters per year.
These are animals that hibernate during the winter in cold areas. Before hibernating, they gain weight to have sufficient food reserves to survive during this period. During hibernation, the animal can reduce its body temperature to -5ºC, depending on the species, and decrease some of its metabolic functions. In addition, these animals do not migrate to other regions, so when food is scarce and temperatures drop too low (they cannot bear very low temperatures), they go into hibernation until spring. There are species that can wake up every 10 days and others can last up to 90 days.
There are different reasons that pose a threat to these animals. One of them is a disease known as white nose syndrome , caused by the white fungus, which attacks the ears, muzzle and wings of these flying mammalian animals .
Another threat to these animals is the use of wind turbines or windmills , whose blades are a danger because they cause accidents when bats collide with them. The use of insecticides in agriculture, their use as food, trampling or the interruption of their hibernation stage by humans, are other factors that contribute to reducing their populations.
With regard to the predators of bats , the most important are snakes, owls, lizards, the wild cat or foxes.