Bats and caves are not scary; in fact, they are fascinating creatures and special ecosystems that don’t deserve their spooky reputation!
Bats are small, furry mammals that are nocturnal, meaning they sleep in the day and are active at night. They are the only mammals who can truly fly! They give birth to live babies which they nurse, just like other mammals. Bats are unusual in that they hang upside down when they sleep. Their roost (where they sleep) is usually a tree or a cave. Bats are very social animals, and they usually sleep together in huge groups to stay all warm and cozy.
There are over 1,200 species of bats, and they live all over the world. In fact, around 20% of all mammals on Earth are bats! Most bats are small and eat insects, but some tropical species are very large, and they also eat fruits. The smallest bat in the world is the Kitti’s Hog-Nosed Bat; they weight just 2 grams, about the same amount as 2 Skittles candies and are as small as a bumblebee! The largest bat is the Golden-Crowned Flying Fox, with a wingspan of almost 6 feet!
The largest bat colony in the world can be found in Bracken Cave in Texas. Every spring, Mexican Free-Tailed Bats migrate up to 1,000 miles from their winter homes in Mexico to Bracken Cave to have their babies. Each night, at sunset, all the bats exit the Bracken Cave to hunt insects. There are up to 20 million of them and they all leave the cave within minutes. What an amazing sight – a river of bats flying through the sky!
You might imagine it is hard for mother bats to find their babies in such a crowded space, but they have a special way to do that. In crowded spaces like a cave full of 20 million bats, moms find their babies by smell! Bats use echolocation to help them ‘see’ in the dark as they navigate the nighttime skies. By sending out sound waves, which bounce off of objects and back to their big ears, they are able to build a picture of what is around them, including juicy bugs to gobble up.
Bats are incredibly important for people and our planet. They are pollinators, just like bees and butterflies, and adult bats eat lots of insects in a single night. Not only does this help farmers, but it also helps keep mosquito populations down, which are known for carrying disease. Bat caves are amazing ecosystems too. Bat poop, called guano, covers the floor of the caves, but that works out great for the bacteria and fungi who feed on it. Insects also find a perfect home inside. Now you can see how wonderful bats and caves are.