In the nooks and crannies, the caves and crevices, the dark passages and forgotten corners of our environment and our psyche, there hangs the lone winged mammal on the planet — the bat. An object of fear and disgust to many, these misunderstood creatures are complex, diverse, and vital to our world’s ecosystems. Their reputation as ugly disease-ridden varmints is vastly overblown; but there remains an eerie mystique and inherent fear associated with these fanged, flying guardians of the night. The following are 10 terrifying facts about bats, guaranteed to bring nightmares and goosebumps to even the bravest bat aficionado.
10. Bats are everywhere
You can’t escape them. Masters of colonization, bats have inhabited nearly every type of ecosystem since the age of the dinosaurs, with the exception of desert and polar climes. Today their empire stretches across every continent except Antarctica, though they are most numerous in the tropics.
9. Bats roost in obscene numbers
In those tropical environments, bat populations explode into the millions, even in isolated colonies.
The biggest single gathering of bats in the world is in San Antonio, Texas, where 20-40 million bats pour out of Bracken Cave each night in search of food.
Image: Ron Groves
8. Bats can get huge
Imagine your family dog growing six-foot wings and hanging upside down in the backyard peach tree, and you’ll understand just how big bats can get. Giant fruit bats, also known as flying foxes, can grow over a foot-and-a-half in body length and up to 6 ft (2 m) in wingspan.
Image: Gilles San Martin
7. Batwings are actually flaps of skin
No streamlined feathers, no colorful plumage — the bat relies on flaps of skin stretched over thin, skeleton-like fingers for flight. Believe it or not, this lack of feathers aids in maneuverability, allowing bats to slice through the night sky acrobatically and effortlessly with pin-point accuracy.
Image: the biella
6. Bats have an insatiable hunger
On a good night, by using their sharp teeth to shred food into tiny pieces for easy digestion, bats can consume nearly 50 percent of their own body weight. Large groups, like the aforementioned Bracken Cave colony, can forage and hunt for untold tons of fruit and insects in a single night. But that’s not all they eat…
5. Bats prey on human blood
Just like Nosferatu, some bats feast on the warm, rich blood of other animals, including humans. However, unlike fictional monsters in books and films, vampire bats strike surreptitiously, inflicting a small painless bite on the skin and gently lapping at the flow of blood on the surface.
Bat saliva also contains an anti-clotting agent, allowing the carnage to continue throughout the night.
4. Bats spread rabies
Because of their high tolerance and frequent contact with certain pathogens, including rabies, bats are characterized as dangerous, disease-carrying pests. Although bat bites cause a small number of rabies cases every year, you are much more likely to be infected by a dog or other family pet.
3. Some bats are actually undead (kind of)
While some bats fly south for the winter like their avian counterparts, some employ methods of hibernation to survive the cold, bug-less winter. An even smaller subset of these bats, including the small brown, may actually stop breathing for up to an hour to conserve energy. They awake in the spring, reborn and ready to wreak havoc on the world.
2. Bats can see and hear everything
The sophisticated system of echolocation, the use of sonar to locate prey, obstacles and other unseen objects, gives the bat a mental image of every minuscule detail of its environment. A series of high-pitched pings, inaudible to humans, bounce off solid objects and return to the bat, allowing for seamless navigation in the dead of night.