For centuries, bats have been called sinister and spooky, likely because of their beady eyes and razor-sharp fangs. But there’s more to these nocturnal creatures than meets the eyes. There are more than 1,300 species of bats in the world, making them the second most common group of mammals after rodents. Some weigh less than a penny, while others have a wingspan of six feet, but all are impressive and vital members of their ecosystems.

Winging it

The scientific name for bats is Chiroptera, which is Greek for “hand wing.” That’s because bats have four long fingers and a thumb, each connected to the next by a thin layer of skin. They are the only mammals in the world that can fly, and they are remarkably good at it. Their flexible skin membrane and movable joints allow them to change direction quickly and catch mosquitoes in midair.


There are two main types of bats: microbats and megabats. Most bats are microbats, which eat insects like moths, that come out at night. Vampire bats are the only species of microbats that feed on blood rather than insects. But not to worry—they prefer to drink from cattle and horses, not humans.

To navigate dark caves and hunt after dark, microbats rely on echolocation, a system that allows them to locate objects using sound waves. They echolocate by making a high-pitched sound that travels until it hits an object and bounces back to them. This echo tells them an object’s size and how far away it is.

In contrast, megabats live in the tropics and eat fruit, nectar, and pollen. They have larger eyes and a stronger sense of smell than microbats but have smaller ears because they don’t echolocate. There are more than 150 species of megabats, which are usually, but not always, larger than microbats.


Bats can be found nearly everywhere, except in polar regions, extreme deserts, and a few isolated islands. They spend their daylight hours hiding in roosts around the tropics, dense forests, and wetlands. Roosts are where bats go to rest, usually in cracks and crevices that keep them hidden and protected. The most common roosts are existing structures such as caves, tree hollows, and old buildings.

Seasons often dictate where any bats choose their homes. depending on the time of year because they hibernate during the winter. For example, in the winter, some may hibernate in caves, and in the summer, they’ll return to an attic. Because good roosts can be hard to find, many live in giant colonies with millions of other bats.

No matter where they spend their seasons, all bats roost upside down. They can hang from their hind feet and legs while resting. Scientists still aren’t sure why bats do this, but here’s one theory: Bats have to fall into flight, which makes hanging upside down the best way to escape quickly.

Nature’s conservationists

Despite all the misconceptions surrounding bats, they are very important to humans and the environment. Insect-eating microbats consume millions of bugs a night, acting as a natural pest control for plants. Thanks to bats, farmers might rely less on toxic pesticides, which costs them millions of dollars each year. Nectar-drinking bats pollinate plants so they can produce fruit. In fact, more than 500 plant species, including mangoes, bananas, and avocados, depend on bats for pollination. Finally, fruit-eating bats help disperse seeds so rainforests can grow, helping to mitigate the effects of widespread deforestation.

Why bats aren't as scary as you think When we think of bats, an unfavorable image often comes to mind. Whether it's the scary portrayal of them in vampire films and literature or a general fear of how their real-life counterparts might transmit viruses, bats have gotten a bad rap that's actually more fiction than fact. Take a look at how many common bat misconceptions came about and just how vital bats are to our everyday lives.
Watch the rehabilitation of rescued baby bats

Denise Wade rescues 200 to 400 bats per year, mostly flying foxes, and rehabilitates them in her home. Many are babies, orphaned after their mothers have died from electrocution on power lines. Others have been injured by fruit tree netting or barbed wire. Wade provides the special care that the bats’ mothers would do – including bathing, feedings, and and keeping them warm and snuggly.