backyard Professor Nature
Oklahoma State Parks State Park Naturalist

***INSTRUCTOR'S NOTE: First and foremost, before anyone begins the study of bats, it must be remembered that no matter how tame or loveable bats look, they are WILD ANIMALS and must be treated in that manner.  They should never be picked up or handled in any way.  Since they are mammals, they CAN carry diseases that should be avoided by humans.  They do not make good pets and having small bones and paper-thin wings, they are very fragile. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM USING LIVE BATS IN ANY CLASSROOM SITUATION, LEAVE THAT TO THE PROFESSIONALS.***

Let us begin our discussion with dispelling many of the rumors that we hear about bats.  This will help the students become a little more at ease with studying these fascinating little creatures.  (Instructors: feel free to put this information into any format that you feel fits your situation the best.)

1. Bats are blind, or many people say they are.  This is one of the biggest myths surrounding bats.  In fact, most bats can see as well as humans and many tropical bats see much better.  To help them with their night flying and feeding, they possess a feature known as echolocation, a type of sonar that picks up objects by using sound waves emitted from the bat's nose, mouth, or combinations of both.  

2. Many stories have been told over the years about bats flying into people's hair.  For the most part, this simply does not happen.  First, bats usually don't get that close to humans; secondly, bats do not like to be restricted by the hair; and finally, the echolocation that the bats use can pick up a single human hair many, many yards away.

3. Bats have been described as "mice with wings."  Bats are not members of the rodent family as are mice.  They have a family all to themselves known as Chiroptera, which means "hand wing."  If you look at a bat closely, that is exactly what they possess.  Their wing is simply a human-like hand with elongated fingers.  Two very thin membranes are stretched tightly over these fingers, thus producing their wing.  Bats are the only true flying mammals found in the world.

4. Count Dracula always comes to mind when we think about bats.  There are three species of bats that feed on blood, and appropriately enough, they are called vampire bats. They live in Central and South America.  Bats around the world have a varied diet, eating fruit, nectar, fish, frogs, leaves, and insects, just to name a few.  All the bats in Oklahoma and about 70% of bats in the world eat insects.  These feeding habits are what make bats so beneficial to man.  They scatter seeds of many tropical plants, eat over-ripened fruit, pollinate many desert plants and cacti, or consume over 1/2 of their body weight each night in insects.

5. In our culture, bats have been associated with evil since the beginning of time.  Ancient man thought they were a half mammal-half bird type animal and Native American tradition tells of a bird that wanted to be human, but didn't quite make the transformation.  Anytime you see wings of evil spirits, they are always bat wings, while angels possess bird wings, another example of the "evil" to which bats have been associated.

Other fun facts that can be worked into a classroom discussion:

1. There are about 1,000 different species of bats worldwide; 40 species in North America; and 22 species in Oklahoma.  They range in size from the largest bats, Flying Foxes from Indonesia (weighing over 2 pounds and with a 6-foot wingspan) to the very tiny Bumblebee Bats of Thailand (weighing less than a penny and with a 6-inch wingspan). These Bumblebee Bats are believed to be the smallest mammal on the face of the earth.  In Oklahoma, the smallest bat is the Western Pipistrel bat weighing less than a quarter and having an 8-inch wingspan; the largest is the Hoary Bat weighing a little over an ounce and having about a 14 to 16 inch wingspan.

2. Bats live everywhere in the world with the exception of the Polar Regions and some hot desert areas.  They can be found hanging upside down in trees, in attics of man-made structures, under bridges and culverts, and where we think of most bats living, in caves.

3. Bats are highly vulnerable to extinction simply because of their birthing techniques.  They usually only have one baby per year.  The babies are born about 1/4 of their adult size.  They grow very quickly and will be able to fly in about three weeks and are able to be self-sufficient in about three months.

4. Bats roost in many different ways, some hanging singly (solitary bats) and some staying in clusters (social bats) of as many as 250-500 per square foot.

If you have any additional questions about bats and their habitat, please feel free to contact the park @ 580.621.3381, check out the links listed below, or e-mail Professor Nature at his listed e-mail address.

                       CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

1. Bats normally have to flap their wings 12-20 times per second to stay airborne.  To illustrate this to the students, have them stand at an arm-distance apart and flap their arms up and down as many times as they can in five seconds (usually this will be about 10-12 times in that 5 second period).  You can then make the connection that a bat flaps its wings five or six times faster that they did.

2. To illustrate how close social bats get in their clusters, mark off an area two feet square with chalk, tape, etc.  If you have K-1-2 graders, stand 6 students in this square; if you have 3-4 graders, stand 5 students in the box.  (This is equal to 250 bats per square foot).  The students might also notice that being this close to others increases the temperature in the cluster, something that is very important in the springtime as the bats emerge from hibernation.

3. Bats in Oklahoma eat 1/2 their weight in insects each night.  To help the students understand how much this amount of food really is, compare this to the amount of food they eat.  To do this, weigh a student or pick one that knows his/her weight.  Multiply their weight by 2.  This is the number of McDonald's Happy Meals that they would have to eat to consume the same ratio of food/weight as a bat does.  If the bat is a female with a pup, she would have to eat twice her body weight.  To figure this, multiply the number of Happy Meals by 4.  (See the examples below).
       EXAMPLE: If the student weighs 75 pounds, you       multiply that by 2 giving you 150.  That is the amount of Happy Meals the student would have to eat each day.  If the student happened to be a female with a pup, they would have to eat 600 meals (150 X 4).

4. Bats ears are shaped like most animal's ears, they are on top of their heads and leaning forward slightly to pick up sounds.  This is one reason why animals are more adept at hearing than humans.  To help illustrate how this works, take an object that will make a constant but low pitched sound (timer, metronome, etc.)  Start this device.  Have the students close their eyes and listen very hard for the sound of the device.  After about 15 seconds, have the students cup their hands behind their ears and again listen for about 15 seconds.  They will be very surprised at the outcome of this experiment...they will be able to hear at least 50% better than before.
My Quia activities and quizzes
Elementary True or False Quiz
Bat basics important to the study of bats.
Elementary Bat Terms.
Terms read about in the lesson above
Elementary Bats - just hangin' around
Learn how to spell those "BAT" terms
Useful links
Last updated  2008/09/28 08:03:34 PDTHits  319