Fact or Fiction: Bat edition!

By Daisy Finniear and Charlotte Lewis

Welcome to Fact or Fiction: Bat Edition! There are quite a few myths out there about bats, many of which are not very flattering. We want to help you separate myth from reality and see bats in a brand-new light (but don’t make it too light, bats prefer the dark!). #wisdomwednesday

1. Bats are blind

Fiction! Bats are not blind and actually have pretty good eyesight. Large fruit bat species rely solely on their vision to find food. Unlike fruit bats, smaller insectivorous species rely on echolocation (a kind of sonar) to find their next meal. Although they require little use of their eyes at night, bats can use their vision in combination with echolocation during lighter times of dusk and dawn to aid them in their hunt for insects (Boonman et al., 2013). So, you may want to think twice next time you call someone “blind as a bat”!

2.Bats are rodents

Fiction! The old wives tale of “mice with wings” doesn’t fly with us. Although looks may deceive, bats are not rodents and are not very closely related to them genetically, either. In fact, bats are more closely related to horses and lions than they are to rodents! (Tsagkogeorga et al., 2013).

3. All bats suck blood

Fiction! Well, to a degree. Only three species of bat drink blood, all of which are vampires (and no, not the sparkly kind from that famous teen movie!). To put it into context, there are 1,300 species of bat worldwide, so very few actually feed off of the blood of other animals. Vampire bats (found in South America) feed from other animals by making a small incision and lapping up the blood.

Many vampire bats even go unnoticed when feeding! Now that’s skill.

4. Bats avoid human contact

Fact! Bats will not fly into you or get stuck in your hair. Bats avoid contact with humans and use their echolocation skills to prevent them from crashing into anything or anyone. If a bat can detect a tiny insect in the pitch black, they will have no trouble avoiding your hair!

5. All bats in the UK have rabies

Fiction! Although UK bats can carry a type of rabies (European Bat Lyssavirus), it is extremely rare. In fact, since 1986 the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) have tested over 15,000 UK bats and less than 30 bats tested positive for rabies. It is even rarer for bats to transmit rabies to other animals or humans, with only one recorded case of a bat giving rabies to a person in the UK (Racey et al., 2013). Though extremely unlikely, humans can contract rabies from bats if bitten or scratched.

Due to this, it is recommended that those who are not vaccinated avoid handling bats that need help and call Bristol Bat Rescue instead!

6. The common pipistrelle weighs only 5 grams

Fact! The common pipistrelle bat (found in the UK) is so tiny that adults on average weigh only 5 grams. That’s the same weight as a 20p coin! Common pipistrelles are not even the smallest bat species, either. The smallest bat is the bumblebee bat from Thailand, weighing a tiny 2 grams (lighter than the weight of a penny!).

In sum, bats are not the scary creatures you see in horror movies. Instead, we like to see them as harmless little sky puppies, undeserving of their villainized reputation!

References/further reading

Boonman, A., Bar-On, Y., & Yovel, Y. (2013). It's not black or white—on the range of vision and echolocation in echolocating bats. Frontiers in physiology, 4, 248.

Racey, P. A., Hutson, A. M., & Lina, P. H. C. (2013). Bat rabies, public health and European bat conservation. Zoonoses and public health, 60(1), 58-68.

Tsagkogeorga, G., Parker, J., Stupka, E., Cotton, J. A., & Rossiter, S. J. (2013). Phylogenomic analyses elucidate the evolutionary relationships of bats. Current Biology, 23(22), 2262-2267.



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