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All About Bats

Updated on August 29, 2014

Antillean Ghost-faced Bat

 Antillean Ghost-faced Bat
Antillean Ghost-faced Bat | Source

They Vant to Suck Your Blood!

Bats are associated with folklore of various cultures around the world. While in the United States bats serve as an iconic image of Halloween, in other parts of the world and subcultures within the United States, their symbolism far exceeds one holiday of the year.

For example, bats are closely associated with vampires, who are said to be able to shapeshift into bats, fog, or wolves. Bats are also a symbol of ghosts, death, and disease. Among some Native Americans, such as the Creek, Cherokee and Apache, the bat is a trickster spirit.

Chinese lore claims the bat is a symbol of longevity and happiness, and is similarly lucky in Poland and geographical Macedonia and among the Kwakiutl and Arabs. The bat is also a heraldic animal of the Spanish autonomous community of Valencia.

Pre-Columbian cultures associated animals with gods and often displayed them in art. The Moche people depicted bats in their ceramics.

In Western Culture, the bat is often a symbol of the night and its foreboding nature. The bat is a primary animal associated with fictional characters of the night, both villains like Dracula and heroes like Batman. The association of the fear of the night with the animal was treated as a literary challenge by Kenneth Oppel, who created a best selling series of novels, beginning with Silverwing, which feature bats as the central heroic figures much as anthropomorphized rabbits were the central figures to the classic novel Watership Down.

An old wives' tale has it that bats will entangle themselves in people's hair. One likely source of this belief is that insect-eating bats seeking prey may dive erratically toward people, who attract mosquitoes and gnats, leading the squeamish to believe that the bats are trying to get in their hair.

In the United Kingdom all bats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Acts, and even disturbing a bat or its roost can be punished with a heavy fine.

Bats of the United States and Canada

Bats of the United States and Canada
Bats of the United States and Canada

The only mammals capable of true flight, bats are among the world’s most fascinating creatures. This accessible guide to the forty-seven species of bats found in the United States and Canada captures and explains the amazing diversity of these marvels of evolution.

A wide variety of bat species live in the United States and Canada, ranging from the California leaf-nosed bat to the Florida bonneted bat, from the eastern small-footed bat to the northern long-eared bat. The authors provide an overview of bat classification, biology, feeding behavior, habitats, migration, and reproduction. They discuss the ever-increasing danger bats face from destruction of habitat, wind turbines, chemical toxicants, and devastating diseases like white-nose syndrome, which is killing millions of cave bats in North America. Illustrated species accounts include range maps and useful identification tips.

Written by three of the world’s leading bat experts and featuring J. Scott Altenbach's stunning photographs, this fact-filled and easy-to-use book is the most comprehensive and up-to-date account of bats in the U.S. and Canada.


Giant golden-crowned flying fox

Giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus)
Giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus) | Source

Why the Bat Hangs Upside Down

Retold from a myth of the Lipan Apache Indians of Texas

Once, long ago, Coyote thought he would take a wife, but did not know whom to choose.

"Why not take the wife of Hawk Chief?" Bat said, for Hawk Chief was missing, and had not been seen for many days.

But Hawk Chief returned and became angry with Bat for giving such ill-considered advice. He picked Bat up and slung him with full force into a juniper bush.

Bat hung upside down in the bush, caught by his long, pointy-toed moccasins. He twisted and he turned, but however much he struggled, he could not get free.

And from that time on bats hang upside down - even when they sleep.


Baby Bat

Random Bat FAQS

  • in China, the word for "bat" also means "joy."
  • Bats maintain our natural world by hunting insects, pollinating plants and scattering seeds.
  • Bats have very small teeth and can bite a sleeping person without being felt.
  • Bats make up one fourth of the mammals on this planet.
  • Different species of bats eat different things: insects, fruit, pollen, and small animals are among some of the dietary preferences of some of the species. About 70% of bats feed on insects; 20% on fruit and nectar from blooming plants.
  • There are over 1000 species of bats. They come in all sorts of different sizes, shapes, colors, and habits. There are species of bats with six-foot wings spans and species of bats less than an inch in size.
  • There are only three species of vampire bats that feed on the blood of other animals, typically cattle. They do not suck the blood; they lap it up after making a small incision with their razor sharp fangs. These bats are the ones that have mystified and unwittingly fueled the hysteria of the masses and the bats' subsequent association with blood thirsty vampires.
  • The forelimbs of bats are webbed and developed as wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight.
  • In Chinese art, two bats means double luck. A design of two bats with a scepter means "double happiness as wished".
  • In Chinese art, five bats means the Five Fortunes, which refers to Good Luck, Prosperity, Wealth, Happiness, Longevity.

Bat's Blood Conjure Oil

Bat's Blood Conjure Oil
Bat's Blood Conjure Oil | Source

Bat's Blood, a Traditional Hoodoo Conjure Oil

Bat's Blood is a popular ingredient in hoodoo and it is an example of European influences within the hoodoo pharmacopeia and vernacular. Since the early 20th century, commercially prepared "bat's blood" inks have been available, using Dragon's blood resin (an Indonesian botanical native to the island of Sumatra) as a base. Bat's Blood Ink is commonly advertised as used in spells related to creating discord, tension, for binding, banishing, wreaking havoc and revenge. Bat's blood and bat parts in general, are also said to bring good luck and fortune. Bat's Blood ink is commonly used for inscribing talismans.


To make a conjure oil with protective qualities, to bring luck in games of chance as well as blessings, combine dragon's blood with chamomile, cinnamon and myrrh. Use this oil to dress candles, anoint the body, amulets and mojo bags.


To make your own Bat's Blood ink, combine a few chunks of Dragon's Blood resin in alcohol, and add indigo and gum arabica.

Halloween Origami Instructions: Patty Bat (Talo Kawasaki)

Folklore of Bats

  • According to one well-known fable, popularly attributed to Aesop, the birds and beasts were once preparing for war. The birds said to the bat, "Come with us," but he replied, "I am a beast." The beasts said to the bat, "Come with us," but he replied, "I am a bird." At the last moment a peace was made, but ever since, all creatures have shunned the bat. Reference:
  • According to Ovid, the daughters of Minyas had refused to join the revels in honor of Bacchus and stayed at home weaving and telling stories. As punishment, they were turned into bats, but they continued to avoid the woods and flock to houses. Reference:
  • In Africa, Swahili-speaking people have believed that after death the spirit of the departed hovers near his or her body as a bat. Reference:
  • People in Uganda and Zimbabwe have believed that bats taking wing in the evening are departed spirits coming to visit the living. Reference:
  • Bats did not really come to be thought of as spooky in Europe until the end of the Middle Ages, as folk belief became increasingly equated with witchcraft. Bats came to be regarded as familiars of witches and as a frequent disguise for the Devil. Dragons and demons would often be depicted with the wings of a bat. Reference:
  • The Bororo, a tribe in Brazil, tell a story about men casually smoking one night. A vampire bat flew by and told them that, if they did not smoke reverently, they would be punished, "because this tobacco is mine." (Plants are often "owned" by animals in South American myths.) According to the story, the men who disobeyed the bat were turned into otters.

Mexican funnel-eared bat (Natalus stramineus)

Mexican funnel-eared bat (Natalus stramineus)
Mexican funnel-eared bat (Natalus stramineus)

Why are Bats Considered Spooky?

Much folklore around the world has cast the bat in a bad role. Perhaps the most familiar of this folklore to we in Western culture are the medieval witchcraft texts that described bats as familiars for witches and the old European lore which associated bats with vampires. Curiously, the old European association of bats to vampires occurred long before Europeans discovered the existence of the less common species of vampire bats in South America (the only continent where vampire bats are found). Also, note that the bat's "evil" reputation from those medieval texts clung to it far into the modern day, while black cats, who got the same bad reputation in those texts, have since been redeemed and thrown into the "cutesy" category.

So, how did bats come to be seen as so "evil?" The prevailing theory seems to be that since bats are mostly nocturnal animals and would stay away from people, people simply were not familiar with these creatures, and often what is unfamiliar is misunderstood. As a result, bats have been seen seen as dirty, disease-ridden, or vicious.


Hollywood's Cultural Bat Icon

Thanks to Hollywood, perhaps the most famous bat cultural icon, is Batman, originally referred to as the Bat-Man and still referred to at times as the Batman. Batman is a comic book superhero co-created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger and appears in publications by DC Comics. The character first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in May 1939.

Additionally known as the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, the Dark Knight Detective, and the World's Greatest Detective; in the original version of the story and the vast majority of subsequent retellings, Batman's secret identity is Bruce Wayne, a billionaire playboy, industrialist, and philanthropist. Having witnessed the murder of his parents as a child, he swore revenge on crime, an oath tempered with the greater ideal of justice. Bruce trains himself both physically and intellectually and dons a bat-themed costume in order to fight crime. Batman operates in the fictional American Gotham City, assisted by various supporting characters including his main sidekick Robin, occasional assistance from former sidekick Batgirl and hero Nightwing, the police commissioner James Gordon, and his butler Alfred Pennyworth, and fights an assortment of villains influenced by the characters' roots in film and pulp magazines. Unlike most superheroes, he does not possess any superpowers; he makes use of intellect, detective skills, science and technology, wealth, physical prowess, and intimidation in his war on crime. In 2009, following Wayne's apparent death, the role of Batman has been taken up by his former ward and the first Robin, Dick Grayson.

Batman: The Killing Joke, Deluxe Edition

Batman: The Killing Joke, Deluxe Edition
Batman: The Killing Joke, Deluxe Edition

Presented for the first time with stark, stunning new coloring by Bolland, BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE is Alan Moore's unforgettable meditation on the razor-thin line between sanity and insanity, heroism and villainy, comedy and tragedy.

According to the grinning engine of madness and mayhem known as The Joker, that's all that separates the sane from the psychotic. Freed once again from the confines of Arkham Asylum, he's out to prove his deranged point. And he¿s going to use Gotham City's top cop, Commissioner Jim Gordon, and his brilliant and beautiful daughter Barbara to do it.

Now Batman must race to stop his archnemesis before his reign of terror claims two of the Dark Knight's closest friends. Can he finally put an end to the cycle of bloodlust and lunacy that links these two iconic foes before it leads to its fatal conclusion? And as the horrifying origin of the Clown Prince of Crime is finally revealed, will the thin line that separates Batman's nobility and The Joker's insanity snap once and for all?

Legendary writer Alan Moore redefined the super-hero with WATCHMEN and V FOR VENDETTA. In BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE, he takes on the origin of comics' greatest super-villain, The Joker —and changes Batman's world forever.

Stunningly illustrated, BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE, THE DELUXE EDITION has been lushly re-colored by artist Brian Bolland, presenting his original vision of this modern classic for the first time.


Why Bats Only Fly at Night

East Nigerian Myth

According to a particular East Nigerian tale, the bat developed its nocturnal habits after causing the death of his partner the bush-rat. The bat and the bush-rat would share activities such as rummaging through the grass and trees, hunting, talking and bonding during the day. When at night, the bat and the bush-rat would alternate in cooking duties cooking what was caught, and eat together. It appeared to a dedicated partnership, however the bat hated the bush-rat immensely. The bush rat always found the bat%u2019s soup more appetising so when eating dinner one night asked the bat why the soup tasted better than his own and also asked how it was made. The bat agreed to show him how to make it the next day but instead was forming a malicious plan. Next day as bat prepared his soup, the bush-rat came, greeting him and asked if he could be shown what was agreed yesterday. Earlier, the bat has found a pot looking exactly like the one he used usually, but it held warm water and so decided to use this instead. The bat explained to the bush-rat that to make his soup, he had to boil himself prior to serving the soup where sweetness and flavor of the soup came from the flesh. The bat jumped in the pot seemingly excited, with the bush-rat mesmerised. After a few minutes the bat climbed out and while the bush-rat was distracted, switched pots. The bat then served his soup out of the soup pot, both tasted it. Overanxious and eager, the bush-rat, jumped into the pot of warm water. He stayed much longer in the pot dying in the process. When the bush-rat's wife returned that night to find her husband dead, she wept and ran to the chief of the land's house telling him about what happened and what she was sure what the bat had done. In hearing this, the chief became angry, ordering for the immediate arrest of the bat. It just so happened that the bat was flying over the house and overheard what was just said. He quickly went into hiding high up in a tree. When the chief's men went looking for the bat, he could not be found. The search to arrest the bat carried on over several days, but still could not be found. The bat needed to eat, so flew out of hiding every night to hunt for food to escape of being arrested.

Bat Loves the Night: Read and Wonder

Bat Loves the Night: Read and Wonder
Bat Loves the Night: Read and Wonder

Night has fallen, and Bat awakens to find her evening meal. Follow her as she swoops into the shadows, shouting and flying, the echoes of her voice creating a sound picture of the world around her. When morning light creeps into the sky, Bat returns to the roost to feed her baby . . . and to rest until nighttime comes again. Bat loves the night!


Brown Long-Eared Bat

Brown Long-Eared Bat (Plecotus auritus)
Brown Long-Eared Bat (Plecotus auritus)

Brown Long-Eared Bat (Plecotus auritus)

The brown long-eared bat or common long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) is a fairly large European bat. It has distinctive ears, long and with a distinctive fold. It is extremely similar to the much rarer grey long-eared bat which was only validated as a distinct species in the 1960s.

An adult brown long-eared bat has a body length of 4.5-4.8 cm, a tail of 4.1-4.6 cm, and a wing length of 4-4.2 cm. The ears are 3.3-3.9 cm in length, and readily distinguish this from most other bat species.

They are relatively slow flyers compared to other bat species.

It is found across northern Eurasia, from England and France to Korea and Japan. The UK distribution can be found on the National Biodiversity Network website and can be seen here.

This species appears to prefer caves as roosting sites, but roosts in trees holes, buildings and bat boxes as well. The roosts in trees may be close to the ground.

It hunts above woodland, often by day, and mostly for moths, gleaning insects from leaves and bark. This is one of the bats for which eyesight is more important than echolocation in finding prey (Stevens 2005).

Stevens, Martin (2005): The role of eyespots as anti-predator mechanisms, principally demonstrated in the Lepidoptera. Biol. Rev. 80(4): 573-588

Bats on Amazon

National Geographic Readers: Bats
National Geographic Readers: Bats

They live in spooky caves, in forests, even in the dark reaches of ordinary attics and bridges. They flock by the hundreds, and they sleep while hanging upside down! In this beautifully photographed Level 2 Reader, kids learn about one of the most interesting creatures around—and discover the bat’s unique place in the wild and in the world. The high-interest topic, expertly written text, and bonus learning activity lay the groundwork for a successful and rewarding reading experience.


Bats: Human Harvest

Thomas Nagle
Thomas Nagle

Thomas Nagel, "What is it Like to Be a Bat?"

Thomas Nagel (born July 4, 1937) is an American philosopher, currently University Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, where he has taught since 1980. His main areas of philosophical interest are philosophy of mind, political philosophy and ethics. He is well-known for his critique of reductionist accounts of the mind in his essay "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?" (1974) and for his contributions to deontological and liberal moral and political theory in subsequent writings.

In "What is it like to be a Bat?" Nagel tried to imagine what it might be like to navigate by sonar and decided that the human mind was unequal to the task. His conclusion was that we must recognize facts that we can neither state nor comprehend.


Studying tropical bats with Sharlene Santana

© 2014 Denise M Alvarado

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