Do bats really drink blood?

With all the Halloween talk of vampires, let’s shed some light on bats

There are around 1,200 species in the order Chiroptera. Bats have been around for at least 50 million years, and in that time they’ve evolved a whole range of diets:

Insectivores

About 70 per cent of bat species prefer to get their teeth into insects like flies, moths and mosquitoes. They use echolocation to hunt their prey in the dark.

 

Carnivores

Meat-eating bats are usually bigger than the insectivores and have longer snouts to help them catch lizards, small birds, mammals and even other bats.

 

Piscivores

A sub-group of the carnivores, fishing bats swoop down and drag fish from the water with their sharp claws. Their snouts are adapted for gnawing through fish bones.

 

Nectivores

Not all bats hunt — some live on flower nectar. Nectivores collect the nectar from open flowers with long tongues and are important pollinators for plants like mango and agave.

Frugivores

While nectivores are small bats, fruit bats can be much larger. They have an excellent sense of smell for finding fruit and help plants to reproduce by dispersing their seeds.

 

Sanguivores

Despite their notoriety, there are actually only three species of vampire bat: the common vampire bat, the white-winged vampire bat and the hairy-legged vampire bat. All are native to Central and South America, not Transylvania.

These are the only mammals known to live exclusively on blood, and they’re well-adapted to their parasitic lifestyle. They mostly feed on cattle and birds and have an enzyme in their saliva that stops the blood clotting.  They have a sense of hearing tuned to the sound of breathing, and the common vampire can use heat detection to locate prey. Unlike other bats, vampires are able to crawl and run. The bats don’t do huge damage as they lick up about a tablespoon of blood each night, but on the rare occasion they bite a human they can pass on rabies.

 

We’re talking all things bat in Issue 52 of World of animals, pick up your copy of issue in shops or online!

Feature photo: darkday/flickr