Everyone thinks bats are super-cool at Halloween, with their sharp pointy teeth, cute furry bodies, weird leathery wings and legendary blood-sucking habits. But when you’ve discovered their SEVEN SUPERPOWERS, you’ll think they’re super-cool all year round.
LIKE you and me, and cats and dogs, bats are mammals. They are warm-blooded, have fur, and give milk to their young. UNLIKE you and me, and all other mammals, bats can fly!
And they’re better at flying than birds! Bats’ wings are stretchy, so can move in lots more directions. They also have more lift and use less energy.
A bat’s wing is very much like a human arm and hand, except that it has a thin layer of skin stretched between its ‘hand’ and body, and between each finger bone. Bats can move their wings just like a hand. When they fly, it’s like swimming through the air. The skin covering these finger-like wing bones is very elastic and able to stretch.
Scientists have invented flying robo-bats with flappable wings. Eventually, they will help people with disabilities to pick things up from the ground.
Not only can bats fly, but they can do it upside down! Bats hang upside down, too, and can sleep and even hibernate in this position without falling down.
Bats roost, or rest, in the day. There might be hundreds or thousands of them hanging upside down together, roosting in trees, caves, barns or under bridges. But why not the right way up?
If bats hung by their thumbs, they would have to let go before taking off. But by hanging upside down, they are able to spread their wings ready for take-off, and have a good clear view for seeing and hearing before flight.
Vampire bats can ‘smell’ heat! They have heat sensors on their noses, which help them to find a spot where warm blood flows, just beneath the skin. It can then bite its victim in exactly the right place.
Unlike most other bats, vampire bats can fly, crawl and hop! They strike their prey from the ground, approaching it on all fours, then jump or fly on to its back.
Hopping is handy when a heavy cow kicks or rolls over. The bat can hop out of the way, instead of being completely squashed!
Most bats do not drink blood. They eat insects. A LOT of insects. One bat can guzzle between 600 and 1,000 in an hour!
Bats catch their prey in mid-flight and at night. So, how do they find these tiny insects in the dark, and avoid bumping into things?
Bats find their food and drink by using echoes. As a bat flies, it makes very loud shouting sounds, which are too high for most humans to hear. The echoes they get back from their shouts give them information about anything that is ahead, including the size and shape of an insect, and which way it is going. This is called echolocation. Bats can tell how far away something is by how long it takes the sounds to return to them.
Think about what happens when you are in a cave and your own voice echoes back to you. The deeper the cave, the longer it takes for the echo to return.
In the cold winter months, there are fewer insects, so bat food is scarce. To cope with this, some bats take a nice long nap, or hibernate. Thousands cluster together on cave walls or ceilings, all curled up like furry little balls. Their deep sleep can last for more than six months, and they survive on just a couple of grams of stored fat.
To hibernate, bats drop their body temperature and slow their heartbeat. A brown bat’s heartbeat is slowed down to just 20 beats a minute, which is very slow compared to its 400 beats a minute at rest and 1,000 beats a minute in flight. Some hibernating bats can survive in freezing temperatures, even after being encased in ice!
In spring, they wake up by shivering violently. They will have lost around half their body weight.
In the tropics, bats do not need to hibernate, because the weather is warm and food is plentiful all year around.
Bats are very important to the environment and to human beings. Firstly, they keep the bug population in check. This is good for us because a lot of bats eat insects that bite us, carry disease and eat our crops. In a city, bats can gobble up 30,000 insects a night. One bat can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour!
Fruit- and flower-eating bats are very important pollinators and seed spreaders. They pollinate many plants, including mangoes, peaches and the sapodilla tree, from which we get chewing gum.
Also, bat droppings, or guano, are one of the richest fertilisers in the world. It is better to use natural fertilisers on our crops than chemicals, which can be harmful to the environment.
So, bats really are our superpower superheroes! One quarter of the world’s bats are threatened with extinction, so we need to help to protect these fabulous creatures and their habitats.
The biggest bat is the Javanese flying fox, with a wingspan of two metres. The littlest is the bumblebee bat. It is smaller than a thumbnail and weighs less than a penny!
Halloween is almost here and we have vampire bats in our heads! Download our cute vampire bat finger puppet. Take your bat puppet for a walk or bring it along with you if you go trick-or-treating. It will make a nice addition to any Halloween costume!
CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE PRINTABLE
This article first appeared in the "Spooky Science" edition of Eco Kids Planet magazine. Check it out! Use code BUNDLE to get FREE shipping.