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Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera; with their forelimbs adapted as wings, they are the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. Bats are more manoeuvrable than birds, flying with their very long spread-out digits covered with a thin membrane or patagium. The smallest bat, and arguably the smallest extant mammal, is Kitti's hog-nosed bat, which is 29–34 mm (1.14–1.34 in) in length, 15 cm (5.91 in) across the wings and 2–2.6 g (0.07–0.09 oz) in mass. The largest bats are the flying foxes and the giant golden-crowned flying fox, Acerodon jubatus, which can weigh 1.6 kg (4 lb) and have a wingspan of 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in).

The second largest order of mammals, bats comprise about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide, with over 1,200 species.

Bats provide humans with some benefits, at the cost of some threats.

Etymology


An older English name for bats is flittermouse, which matches their name in other Germanic languages (for example German Fledermaus and Swedish fladdermus), related to the fluttering of wings. Middle English had bakke, most likely cognate with Old Swedish natbakka ("night-bat"), which may have undergone a shift from -k- to -t- (to Modern English bat) influenced by Latin blatta, "moth, nocturnal insect". The word "bat" was probably first used in the early 1570s. [301] [355] The name "Chiroptera" derives from Ancient Greek : χείρ – cheir, "hand"[16] and πτερόν – pteron, "wing". [49]

Phylogeny and taxonomy


The delicate skeletons of bats do not fossilise well, and it is estimated that only 12% of bat genera that lived have been found in the fossil record. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-009-9118-x]] Most of the oldest known bat fossils were already very similar to modern microbats, such as Archaeopteropus (32 million years ago). [119] The extinct bats Palaeochiropteryx tupaiodon (48 million years ago) and Hassianycteris kumari (55 million years ago) are the first fossil mammals whose colouration has been discovered: both were reddish-brown. [311] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509831112]]

Bats were formerly grouped in the superorder Archonta, along with the treeshrews (Scandentia), colugos (Dermoptera), and primates. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1644/1545-1542(2004)085%3C0321:Prarcf%3E2.0.Co;2]] Modern genetic evidence now places bats in the superorder Laurasiatheria, with its sister taxon as Fereuungulata, which includes carnivorans, pangolins, odd-toed ungulates, even-toed ungulates, and cetaceans. [71] [111] [150] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1093/sysbio/syr089]] [254] One study places Chiroptera as a sister taxon to odd-toed ungulates (Perissodactyla). [96]

The phylogenetic relationships of the different groups of bats have been the subject of much debate.

Genetic evidence indicates that megabats originated during the early Eocene, and belong within the four major lines of microbats. [254] Two new suborders have been proposed; Yinpterochiroptera includes the Pteropodidae, or megabat family, as well as the families Rhinolophidae, Hipposideridae, Craseonycteridae, Megadermatidae, and Rhinopomatidae. [241] Yangochiroptera includes the other families of bats (all of which use laryngeal echolocation), a conclusion supported by a 2005 DNA study. [241] A 2013 phylogenomic study supported the two new proposed suborders. [254]

In the 1980s, a hypothesis based on morphological evidence stated the Megachiroptera evolved flight separately from the Microchiroptera. The flying primate hypothesis proposed that, when adaptations to flight are removed, the Megachiroptera are allied to primates by anatomical features not shared with Microchiroptera. For example, the brains of megabats have advanced characteristics. Although recent genetic studies strongly support the monophyly of bats, [119] debate continues about the meaning of the genetic and morphological evidence. [340]

The 2003 discovery of an early fossil bat from the 52 million year old Green River Formation, Onychonycteris finneyi , indicates that flight evolved before echolocative abilities. [61] Onychonycteris had claws on all five of its fingers, whereas modern bats have at most two claws on two digits of each hand. It also had longer hind legs and shorter forearms, similar to climbing mammals that hang under branches, such as sloths and gibbons. This palm-sized bat had short, broad wings, suggesting that it could not fly as fast or as far as later bat species. Instead of flapping its wings continuously while flying, Onychonycteris probably alternated between flaps and glides in the air. [119] This suggests that this bat did not fly as much as modern bats, but flew from tree to tree and spent most of its time climbing or hanging on branches. [90] The distinctive features of the Onychonycteris fossil also support the hypothesis that mammalian flight most likely evolved in arboreal locomotors, rather than terrestrial runners. This model of flight development, commonly known as the "trees-down" theory, holds that bats first flew by taking advantage of height and gravity to drop down on to prey, rather than running fast enough for a ground-level take off. [165] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2011.9304]]

The molecular phylogeny is controversial, as it points to microbats not having a unique common ancestry, which implies that some seemingly unlikely transformations occurred. The first is that laryngeal echolocation evolved twice in bats, once in Yangochiroptera and once in the rhinolophoids. [260] The second is that laryngeal echolocation had a single origin in Chiroptera, was subsequently lost in the family Pteropodidae (all megabats), and later evolved as a system of tongue-clicking in the genus Rousettus. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.111551998]] Analyses of the sequence of the vocalization gene FoxP2 were inconclusive on whether laryngeal echolocation was lost in the pteropodids or gained in the echolocating lineages. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000900]] Echolocation probably first derived in bats from communicative calls. The Eocene bats Icaronycteris (52 million years ago) and Palaeochiropteryx had cranial adaptations suggesting an ability to detect ultrasound. This may have been used at first mainly to forage on the ground for insects and map out their surroundings in their gliding phase, or for communicative purposes. After the adaptation of flight was established, it may have been refined to target flying prey by echolocation. [90] Bats may have evolved echolocation through a shared common ancestor, in which case it was then lost in the Old World megabats, only to be regained in the horseshoe bats; or, echolocation evolved independently in both the Yinpterochiroptera and Yangochiroptera lineages. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.3161/1733-5329(2007)9[483:EATTSO]2.0.CO;2]] Analyses of the hearing gene Prestin seem to favour the idea that echolocation developed independently at least twice, rather than being lost secondarily in the pteropodids. [301]

Bats are placental mammals. After rodents, they are the largest order, making up about 20% of mammal species. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1038/srep27726]] In 1758, Carl Linnaeus classified the seven bat species he knew of in the genus Vespertilio in the order Primates. Around twenty years later, the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach gave them their own order, Chiroptera. [301] Since then, the number of described species has risen to over 1,200, traditionally classified as two suborders: Megachiroptera (megabats), and Microchiroptera (microbats/echolocating bats). [224] Not all megabats are larger than microbats. [301] Several characteristics distinguish the two groups. Microbats use echolocation for navigation and finding prey, but megabats apart from those in the genus Rousettus do not, relying instead on their eyesight. [330] Accordingly, megabats have a well-developed visual cortex and good visual acuity. [224] Megabats have a claw on the second finger of the forelimb. [301] The external ears of microbats do not close to form a ring; the edges are separated from each other at the base of the ear. Megabats eat fruit, nectar, or pollen, while most microbats eat insects; others feed on fruit, nectar, pollen, fish, frogs, small mammals, or blood. [224]

The following classification from Agnarsson and colleagues in 2011 reflects the traditional division into megabat and microbat suborders.

Anatomy and physiology


The head and teeth shape of bats can vary by species.

Small insect-eating bats can have as many as 38 teeth, while vampire bats have only 20.

Bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight, as opposed to gliding, as in the flying squirrel. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1038/sj.embor.7401050]] The fastest bat, the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), can achieve a ground speed of 160 kilometres per hour (99 mph). [355]

The finger bones of bats are much more flexible than those of other mammals, owing to their flattened cross-section and to low levels of calcium near their tips. The elongation of bat digits, a key feature required for wing development, is due to the upregulation of bone morphogenetic proteins (Bmps). During embryonic development, the gene controlling Bmp signalling, Bmp2 , is subjected to increased expression in bat forelimbs—resulting in the extension of the manual digits. This crucial genetic alteration helps create the specialised limbs required for powered flight. The relative proportion of extant bat forelimb digits compared with those of Eocene fossil bats have no significant differences, suggesting that bat wing morphology has been conserved for over 50 million years. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0509716103]] During flight, the bones undergo bending and shearing stress; the bending stresses felt are smaller than in terrestrial mammals, but the shearing stress is larger. The wing bones of bats have a slightly lower breaking stress point than those of birds. [355]

As in other mammals, and unlike in birds, the radius is the main component of the forearm. Bats have five elongated digits, which all radiate around the wrist. The thumb points forward and supports the leading edge of the wing, and the other digits support the tension held in the wing membrane. The second and third digits go along the wing tip, allowing the wing to be pulled forward against aerodynamic drag, without having to be thick as in pterosaur wings. The fourth and fifth digits go from the wrist to the trailing edge, and repel the bending force caused by air pushing up against the stiff membrane. [351] Due to their flexible joints, bats are more manoeuvrable and more dexterous than gliding mammals. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2015.04.001]]

The wings of bats are much thinner and consist of more bones than the wings of birds, allowing bats to manoeuvre more accurately than the latter, and fly with more lift and less drag.

The patagium is the wing membrane; it is stretched between the arm and finger bones, and down the side of the body to the hind limbs and tail. This skin membrane consists of connective tissue, elastic fibres, nerves, muscles, and blood vessels. The muscles keep the membrane taut during flight. The extent to which the tail of a bat is attached to a patagium can vary by species, with some having completely free tails or even no tails. The skin on the body of the bat, which has one layer of epidermis and dermis, as well as hair follicles, sweat glands and a fatty subcutaneous layer, is very different from the skin of the wing membrane. The patagium is an extremely thin double layer of epidermis; these layers are separated by a connective tissue centre, rich with collagen and elastic fibres. The membrane has no hair follicles or sweat glands, except between the fingers. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1018740108]] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7580.2007.00817.x]] For bat embryos, apoptosis (cell death) only affects the hindlimbs, while the forelimbs retain webbing between the digits that forms into the wing membranes. Unlike birds, whose stiff wings deliver bending and torsional stress to the shoulders, bats have a flexible wing membrane that can only resist tension. To achieve flight, a bat exerts force inwards at the points where the membrane meets the skeleton, so that an opposing force balances it on the wing edges perpendicular to the wing surface. This adaptation does not permit bats to reduce their wingspans, unlike birds, which can partly fold their wings in flight, radically reducing the wing span and area for the upstroke and for gliding. Hence bats cannot travel over long distances as birds can. [351]

Nectar- and pollen-eating bats can hover, in a similar way to hummingbirds. The sharp leading edges of the wings can create vortices, which provide lift. The vortex may be stabilised by the animal changing its wing curvatures. [16]

When not flying, bats hang upside down from their feet, a posture known as roosting.

Bats have an efficient circulatory system. They seem to make use of particularly strong venomotion, a rhythmic contraction of venous wall muscles. In most mammals, the walls of the veins provide mainly passive resistance, maintaining their shape as deoxygenated blood flows through them, but in bats they appear to actively support blood flow back to the heart with this pumping action. [16] [49] Since their bodies are relatively small and lightweight, bats are not at risk of blood flow rushing to their heads when roosting. [49]

Bats possess a highly adapted respiratory system to cope with the demands of powered flight, an energetically taxing activity that requires a large continuous throughput of oxygen. In bats, the relative alveolar surface area and pulmonary capillary blood volume are larger than in most other small quadrupedal mammals. [49] Because of the restraints of the mammalian lungs, bats cannot maintain high-altitude flight. [351]

It takes a lot of energy and an efficient circulatory system to work the flight muscles of bats.

With its extremely thin membranous tissue, a bat's wing can significantly contribute to the organism's total gas exchange efficiency.

The digestive system of bats has varying adaptations depending on the species of bat and its diet. As in other flying animals, food is processed quickly and effectively to keep up with the energy demand. Insectivorous bats may have certain digestive enzymes to better process insects, such as chitinase to break down chitin, which is a large component of insects. [49] Vampire bats, probably due to their diet of blood, are the only vertebrates that do not have the enzyme maltase, which breaks down malt sugar, in their intestinal tract. Nectivorous and frugivorous bats have more maltase and sucrase enzymes than insectivorous, to cope with the higher sugar contents of their diet. [212]

The adaptations of the kidneys of bats vary with their diets. Carnivorous and vampire bats consume large amounts of protein and can output concentrated urine; their kidneys have a thin cortex and long renal papillae. Frugivorous bats lack that ability and have kidneys adapted for electrolyte-retention due to their low-electrolyte diet; their kidneys accordingly have a thick cortex and very short conical papillae. [212] [334]

Bats have higher metabolic rates associated with flying, which lead to an increased respiratory water loss.

The structure of the uterine system in female bats can vary by species, with some having two uterine horns while others have a single mainline chamber.

Microbats and a few megabats emit ultrasonic sounds to produce echoes.

In low-duty cycle echolocation, bats can separate their calls and returning echoes by time.

In high-duty cycle echolocation, bats emit a continuous call and separate pulse and echo in frequency.

In addition to echolocating prey, bat ears are sensitive to the fluttering of moth wings, the sounds produced by tymbalate insects, and the movement of ground-dwelling prey, such as centipedes and earwigs. The complex geometry of ridges on the inner surface of bat ears helps to sharply focus echolocation signals, and to passively listen for any other sound produced by the prey. These ridges can be regarded as the acoustic equivalent of a Fresnel lens, and exist in a large variety of unrelated animals, such as the aye-aye, lesser galago, bat-eared fox, mouse lemur, and others. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-009-9118-x]] [113] [174] Bats can estimate the elevation of their target using the interference patterns from the echoes reflecting from the tragus, a flap of skin in the external ear. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1121/1.1815133]]

By repeated scanning, bats can mentally construct an accurate image of the environment in which they are moving and of their prey.

The eyes of most microbat species are small and poorly developed, leading to poor visual acuity, but no species is blind. [318] Most microbats have mesopic vision, meaning that they can only detect light in low levels, whereas other mammals have photopic vision, which allows colour vision. Microbats may use their vision for orientation and while travelling between their roosting grounds and feeding grounds, as echolocation is only effective over short distances. Some species can detect ultraviolet (UV). As the bodies of some microbats have distinct coloration, they may be able to discriminate colours. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1038/sj.embor.7401050]] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0006390]] [311] [145]

Megabat species often have eyesight as good as, if not better than, human vision.

Microbats make use of magnetoreception, in that they have a high sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic field, as birds do. Microbats use a polarity-based compass, meaning that they differentiate north from south, unlike birds, which use the strength of the magnetic field to differentiate latitudes, which may be used in long-distance travel. The mechanism is unknown but may involve magnetite particles. [311] [311]

Most bats are homeothermic (having a stable body temperature), the exception being the vesper bats (Vespertilionidae), the horseshoe bats (Rhinolophidae), the free-tailed bats (Molossidae), and the bent-winged bats (Miniopteridae), which extensively use heterothermy (where body temperature can vary). [54] Compared to other mammals, bats have a high thermal conductivity. The wings are filled with blood vessels, and lose body heat when extended. At rest, they may wrap their wings around themselves to trap a layer of warm air. Smaller bats generally have a higher metabolic rate than larger bats, and so need to consume more food in order to maintain homeothermy.

Bats may avoid flying during the day to prevent overheating in the sun, since their dark wing-membranes absorb solar radiation.

Bats also possess a system of sphincter valves on the arterial side of the vascular network that runs along the edge of their wings. When fully open, these allow oxygenated blood to flow through the capillary network across the wing membrane; when contracted, they shunt flow directly to the veins, bypassing the wing capillaries. This allows bats to control how much heat is exchanged through the flight membrane, allowing them to release heat during flight. Many other mammals use the capillary network in oversized ears for the same purpose. [311]

Torpor, a state of decreased activity where the body temperature and metabolism decreases, is especially useful for microbats, as they use a large amount of energy while active, depend upon an unreliable food source, and have a limited ability to store fat. They generally drop their body temperature in this state to 6–30 °C (43–86 °F), and may reduce their energy expenditure by 50 to 99%. Around 97% of all microbats use torpor. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509831112]] Tropical bats may use it to avoid predation, by reducing the amount of time spent on foraging and thus reducing the chance of being caught by a predator. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509831112]] Megabats were generally believed to be homeothermic, but three species of small megabats, with a mass of about 50 grams (1.8 oz), have been known to use torpor: the common blossom bat (Syconycteris australis), the long-tongued nectar bat (Macroglossus minimus), and the eastern tube-nosed bat (Nyctimene robinsoni). Torpid states last longer in the summer for megabats than in the winter. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509831112]]

During hibernation, bats enter a torpid state and decrease their body temperature for 99.6% of their hibernation period; even during periods of arousal, when they return their body temperature to normal, they sometimes enter a shallow torpid state, known as "heterothermic arousal". [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509831112]] Some bats become dormant during higher temperatures to keep cool in the summer months. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509831112]]

Heterothermic bats during long migrations may fly at night and go into a torpid state roosting in the daytime.

The smallest bat is Kitti's hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai), which is 29–34 millimetres (1.1–1.3 in) long with a 15 centimetres (5.9 in) wingspan and weighs 2–2.6 grams (0.071–0.092 oz). [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509831112]] [7] It is also arguably the smallest extant species of mammal, next to the Etruscan shrew. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1509831112]] The largest bats are a few species of Pteropus megabats and the giant golden-crowned flying fox, (Acerodon jubatus), which can weigh 1.6 kilograms (3.5 lb) with a wingspan of 1.7 metres (5.6 ft). Larger bats tend to use lower frequencies and smaller bats higher for echolocation; high-frequency echolocation is better at detecting smaller prey. Small prey may be absent in the diets of large bats as they are unable to detect them. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0077183]] The adaptations of a particular bat species can directly influence what kinds of prey are available to it. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1644/05-MAMM-A-424R2.1]]

Ecology


Flight has enabled bats to become one of the most widely distributed groups of mammals.

In temperate areas, some microbats migrate hundreds of kilometres to winter hibernation dens; others pass into torpor in cold weather, rousing and feeding when warm weather allows insects to be active. Others retreat to caves for winter and hibernate for as much as six months. Microbats rarely fly in rain; it interferes with their echolocation, and they are unable to hunt. [206] A few species such as the New Zealand short-tailed bat and the common vampire bat are agile on the ground. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.02186]]

Different bat species have different diets, including insects, nectar, pollen, fruit and even vertebrates.

The Chiroptera as a whole are in the process of losing the ability to synthesise vitamin C. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027114]] In a test of 34 bat species from six major families, including major insect- and fruit-eating bat families, all were found to have lost the ability to synthesise it, and this loss may derive from a common bat ancestor, as a single mutation. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1016/0305-0491(80)90131-5]] At least two species of bat, the frugivorous bat (Rousettus leschenaultii) and the insectivorous bat (Hipposideros armiger), have retained their ability to produce vitamin C. [129]

Most microbats, especially in temperate areas, prey on insects.

Fruit eating, or frugivory, is found in both major suborders.

Nectar-eating bats have acquired specialised adaptations.

Some bats prey on other vertebrates, such as fish, frogs, lizards, birds and mammals.

A few species, specifically the common, white-winged, and hairy-legged vampire bats, only feed on animal blood (hematophagy). The common vampire bat typically feeds on large mammals such as cattle; the hairy-legged and white-winged vampires feed on birds. Vampire bats target sleeping prey and can detect deep breathing. Heat sensors in the nose help them to detect blood vessels near the surface of the skin. [326] They pierce the animal's skin with their teeth, biting away a small flap, and lap up the blood with their tongues, which have lateral grooves adapted to this purpose. [[CITE|-1|http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu/about/Outreach/Exhibits/VampireBat%20exhibit.pdf]] The blood is kept from clotting by an anticoagulant in the saliva.

Bats are subject to predation from birds of prey, such as owls, hawks, and falcons, and at roosts from terrestrial predators able to climb, such as cats. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8312.1995.tb01031.x]] Twenty species of tropical New World snakes are known to capture bats, often waiting at the entrances of refuges, such as caves, for bats to fly past. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1590/S0101-81752007000300036]] J. Rydell and J. R. Speakman argue that bats evolved nocturnality during the early and middle Eocene period to avoid predators. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8312.1995.tb01031.x]] The evidence is thought by some zoologists to be equivocal so far. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12021]]

Among ectoparasites, bats carry fleas and mites, as well as specific parasites such as bat bugs and bat flies (Nycteribiidae and Streblidae). [3] [86] Bats are among the few non-aquatic mammalian orders that do not host lice, possibly due to competition from more specialised parasites that occupy the same niche. [86]

White nose syndrome is a condition associated with the deaths of millions of bats in the Eastern United States and Canada. [269] The disease is named after a white fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans , found growing on the muzzles, ears, and wings of afflicted bats. The fungus is mostly spread from bat to bat, and causes the disease. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1038/nature10590]] The fungus was first discovered in central New York State in 2006 and spread quickly to the entire Eastern US north of Florida; mortality rates of 90–100% have been observed in most affected caves. [138] New England and the mid-Atlantic states have, since 2006, witnessed entire species completely extirpated and others with numbers that have gone from the hundreds of thousands, even millions, to a few hundred or less. [199] Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick have witnessed identical die offs, with the Canadian government making preparations to protect all remaining bat populations in its territory. [246] Scientific evidence suggests that longer winters where the fungus has a longer period to infect bats result in greater mortality. [[CITE|-1|http://thefreelibrary.com/Canada+:+Environment+Canada+Announces+Funding+to+Fight+Threat+of...-a0325180192]] [6] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1188594]] In 2014, the infection crossed the Mississippi River, [96] and in 2017, it was found on bats in Texas. [96]

Bats are natural reservoirs for a large number of zoonotic pathogens, [327] including rabies, endemic in many bat populations, [34] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.00017-06]] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4899-6_12]] histoplasmosis both directly and in guano, [35] Nipah and Hendra viruses, [233] [344] and possibly the ebola virus. [155] [236] Their high mobility, broad distribution, long life spans, substantial sympatry (range overlap) of species, and social behaviour make bats favourable hosts and vectors of disease. Compared to rodents, bats carry more zoonotic viruses per species, and each virus is shared with more species. [288] They seem to be highly resistant to many of the pathogens they carry, suggesting a degree of adaptation to their immune systems. [288] [120] [183] Their interactions with livestock and pets, including predation by vampire bats, accidental encounters, and the scavenging of bat carcasses, compound the risk of zoonotic transmission. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.00017-06]] Bats are implicated in the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, since they serve as natural hosts for Coronaviruses, several from a single cave in Yunnan, one of which developed into the SARS virus. [35] [24] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1006698]]

Social behaviour


Some bats lead solitary lives, while others live in colonies of more than a million.

Several species have a fission-fusion social structure, where large numbers of bats congregate in one roosting area, along with breaking up and mixing of subgroups. Within these societies, bats are able to maintain long term relationships. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2010.2718]] Some of these relationships consist of matrilineally related females and their dependent offspring. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1111/bij.12381]] Food sharing and mutual grooming may occur in certain species, such as the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus), and these strengthen social bonds. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.4161/cib.25783]] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1016/s0003-3472(86)80274-3]]

Bats are among the most vocal of mammals and produce calls to attract mates, find roost partners and defend resources.

In a study on captive Egyptian fruit bats, 70% of the directed calls could be identified by the researchers as to which individual bat made it, and 60% could be categorised into four contexts: squabbling over food, jostling over position in their sleeping cluster, protesting over mating attempts and arguing when perched in close proximity to each other.

Bats also communicate by other means.

Reproduction and life history


Most bat species are polygynous, where males mate with multiple females. Male pipistrelle, noctule and vampire bats may claim and defend resources that attract females, such as roost sites, and mate with those females. Males unable to claim a site are forced to live on the periphery where they have less reproductive success. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1007/BF00299244]] Promiscuity, where both sexes mate with multiple partners, exists in species like the Mexican free-tailed bat and the little brown bat. [239] [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1644/BME-004]] There appears to be bias towards certain males among females in these bats. In a few species, such as the yellow-winged bat and spectral bat, adult males and females form monogamous pairs. Lek mating, where males aggregate and compete for female choice through display, is rare in bats [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1111/jzo.12069]] but occurs in the hammerheaded bat. [[CITE|-1|http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0310.1977.tb02120.x]]

For temperate living bats, mating takes place in late summer and early autumn.

For temperate living bats, births typically take place in May or June in the northern hemisphere; births in the southern hemisphere occur in November and December.

Most of the care for a young bat comes from the mother.

The maximum lifespan of bats is three-and-a-half times longer than other mammals of similar size.

Interactions with humans


Groups such as the Bat Conservation International aim to increase awareness of bats' ecological roles and the environmental threats they face. In the United Kingdom, all bats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Acts, and disturbing a bat or its roost can be punished with a heavy fine.In Sarawak, Malaysia, "all bats"[186] are protected under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998, [186] but species such as the hairless bat (Cheiromeles torquatus) are still eaten by the local communities. Humans have caused the extinction of several species of bat in modern history, the most recent being the Christmas Island pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi), which was declared extinct in 2009.

Many people put up bat houses to attract bats.

Bats are eaten in countries across Asia and the Pacific Rim. In some cases, such as in Guam, flying foxes have become endangered through being hunted for food. [61] There is evidence that wind turbines create sufficient barotrauma (pressure damage) to kill bats. [242] Bats have typical mammalian lungs, which are thought to be more sensitive to sudden air pressure changes than the lungs of birds, making them more liable to fatal rupture. [310] [72] [216] [319] Bats may be attracted to turbines, perhaps seeking roosts, increasing the death rate. [310] Acoustic deterrents may help to reduce bat mortality at wind farms. [116]

Since bats are mammals, yet can fly, they are considered to be liminal beings in various traditions. In many cultures, including in Europe, bats are associated with darkness, death, witchcraft, and malevolence. Among Native Americans such as the Creek, Cherokee and Apache, the bat is a trickster spirit. In Tanzania, a winged batlike creature known as Popobawa is believed to be a shapeshifting evil spirit that assaults and sodomises its victims. [267] In Aztec mythology, bats symbolised the land of the dead, destruction, and decay. [358] [165] An East Nigerian tale tells that the bat developed its nocturnal habits after causing the death of his partner, the bush-rat, and now hides by day to avoid arrest.

More positive depictions of bats exist in some cultures.

The Weird Sisters in Shakespeare's Macbeth used the fur of a bat in their brew. In Western culture, the bat is often a symbol of the night and its foreboding nature. The bat is a primary animal associated with fictional characters of the night, both villainous vampires, such as Count Dracula and before him Varney the Vampire , [165] and heroes, such as Batman. Kenneth Oppel's Silverwing novels narrate the adventures of a young bat, [165] based on the silver-haired bat of North America. [165]

The bat is sometimes used as a heraldic symbol in Spain and France, appearing in the coats of arms of the towns of Valencia, Palma de Mallorca, Fraga, Albacete, and Montchauvet. [14] [164] Three US states have an official state bat. Texas and Oklahoma are represented by the Mexican free-tailed bat, while Virginia is represented by the Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus). [270]

Insectivorous bats in particular are especially helpful to farmers, as they control populations of agricultural pests and reduce the need to use pesticides. It has been estimated that bats save the agricultural industry of the United States anywhere from $ 3.7 billion to $53 billion per year in pesticides and damage to crops. This also prevents the overuse of pesticides, which can pollute the surrounding environment, and may lead to resistance in future generations of insects. [161]

Bat dung, a type of guano, is rich in nitrates and is mined from caves for use as fertiliser. [256] During the US Civil War, saltpetre was collected from caves to make gunpowder; it used to be thought that this was bat guano, but most of the nitrate comes from nitrifying bacteria. [350]

The Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, is the summer home to North America's largest urban bat colony, an estimated 1,500,000 Mexican free-tailed bats. About 100,000 tourists a year visit the bridge at twilight to watch the bats leave the roost. [46]

See also


Notes


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