High School Bats (9-12 graders)
***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 HANDLING LIVE BATS IN ANY CLASSROOM SITUATION, LEAVE THAT TO THE PROFESSIONALS.***
(Instructors: feel free to put this information into any format that you feel fits your situation the best.)
According to fossil records, bats have been inhabitants of this earth for over 50 million years. Scientists believe that they descended from shrew-like animals millions of years ago. This ancestor felt the need for getting from one tree to the next, probably developed a system like flying squirrels use now, and finally expanded into the wings that we associate with bats today. Bats are the only true flying mammal on the face of the earth. (Flying squirrels, their name not withstanding, only fly in one direction...DOWN).
There are nearly 1,000 species of bats in the world, amounting to about 1/4 of all mammal species. They can be found everywhere in the world with the exception of the Polar Regions and some desert areas. About 40 species are found in the United States and Canada, with 22 species in Oklahoma.
Bats are found in many different sizes. The largest bat is the Flying Foxes of Indonesia. They weigh over 2 pounds and have a 6-foot wingspan. The other end of the scale is the smallest bat, the Bumblebee Bat of Thailand. It weighs less than a penny and a wingspan of about 6 inches. Depending upon your perspective, bats can be very beautiful little creatures. The names of the various bats tell you quite a bit about the bat; its looks, color, and physical description. Names like Big Brown, Little Brown, Spotted, Big-eared, Long-nosed, Long-tongued, Free-tailed, and even a Naked Bat.
Most bats communicate with a type of sonar called echolocation. This allows the bat to "see" everything but color. It can pick up size, direction of movement, and even the texture of a given surface. On a watt-per-watt, ounce-per-ounce basis, their sonar is literally billions of times more efficient than a human developed system. Having this echolocation does not mean that bats are blind, quite the contrary. Most bats can see as well as humans and some tropical species have excellent vision.
Bats have a varied diet. About 70% of the bats in the world eat insects (all of the bats in Oklahoma fall into this catagory), while others eat fruit, nectar, fish, frogs, mice, birds, and even blood. An insect eating bat must consume about 1/2 their body weight in insects nightly while a female with a pup must consume twice her body weight every night. Since the bats in Oklahoma have to have insects as a food source, in the winter they have to do one of two things, either migrate to warmer climates where insects can be found, or hibernate. This hibernation will last four to six months depending upon the various species.
Bats that hibernate will breed in the fall of the year, just before going into hibernation. There is very little courting and the males mate with as many females as possible. Ovulation and fertilization occurs in the spring of the year with a gestation period of between 45-60 days for most species. This process of mating, ovulation, and fertilization in bats (and some other hibernating animals) is called "delayed implantation."
Baby bats (pups) are born very large, weighing about 1/4 of their adult weight and they grow very quickly. Since bats are mammals, the pups will nurse on mother's milk from mammary glands that the mother has under her wing. When first born, the pups hang on to their mother's fur while she is hunting, but will soon be too large for her to carry, so they will have to stay behind in the maternity roost while mom hunts. Most bats will be flying by the age of three weeks and will be adult size in about three months. Through studies, scientists have learned that the warmer the environment that these pups are raised in, the faster they seem to develop.
Bats roost in places that they feel are safe from predators and the weather. These can be places such as attics of buildings, under bridges and culverts, and the one that readily comes to mind, caves. Depending upon the type of bat, roosting is done in different configurations. Some bats will be solitary, where they are roosting alone, while other bats form clusters of as many as 250-500 per square foot. These are called social bats.
There are many myths that have been told about bats over the years:
*Bats do not get caught in people's hair. As mentioned earlier, they have echolocation that helps them avoid a single human hair many, many yards away, they don't like to get that close to humans anyway, and they don't like to be restricted by the hair itself.
*Bats have been refered to as "a mouse with wings" but actually look a lot more like a human than a mouse. The bat, first of all, is placed in its own classification called chiroptera, meaning "hand-wing". If you look at a bat skeleton, that is exactly what it is. The wing of a bat is just like the hand of a human but with elongated fingers. Two very thin membranes are stretched tighly over these fingers forming the bat's wing. These membranes are so thin that you can almost see through it.
*And last but not least, myths mention vampire bats that suck the blood out of you. Vampire bats do exist in Central and South America, they do drink blood, but they do not suck the blood through fangs, they lap it up like a kitten laps up a saucer of milk. A vampire bat weighs only 1/2 an ounce and is about three inches long, not the large "monster bats" that are shown on television and in the movies.
A bat's lifespan varies from 8 to 15 years with some species living into their 30's. They have many predators. A good rule of thumb is that anything that would eat a mouse would eat a bat; snakes, dogs, cats, raccoons, hawks, and even owls.
If you have additional questions about bats and their habitat, please feel free to contact the park @ 580.621.3381, check out the links below, or e-mail Professor Nature at the listed e-mail address.