Over 1000 species of bats, where does the vampire bat fit in?

Now, due to the rather large number (1,000) of bat species alive in this world, one must wonder, where does the vampire bat fit into this? Well, to explain this, we shall start off with the basics. Firstly, it must be known that there are two main groups of bats; megabats and microbats. Megabats ( megachiroptera) are known as fruit bats or flying foxes. Megabats live in select portions of the world. They live only in the hottest portions of Africa, Australia, and in Southeast Asia. The body of a megabat can grow up to two feet long! Their wingspan can reach u to 6 feet long! The largest megabat on earth is the pteroppus or flying foxes.There are sixty five known species of flying fox! Megabats use their large eyes to navigate and find food. During they day they often roost communally in trees.

Microbats ( microchiroptera), as their name implies, are generally much smaller than megabats. Most microbats feed on insects, and microbats typically hunt using echolocation. Most bats in the world fall into this category. Micros usually roost in large caves, tunnels, or old mine shafts. Microbats can be very small, in fact it takes about 100 pipistrelle bats to weigh 1 pound. More amazing than that, it takes only 1 square foot to house a cluster of three hundred Mexican Freetail bats.

So where does the vampire bat fit into all of this? Well, the vampire bat is a microbat, and it does indeed use echolocation to search for food. Now, as far as species goes, there certainly aren’t 65species of vampire bats. There are only three known species; the Common Vampire bat, the White winged Vampire bat, and the hairy legged vampire bat. Scientists know relatively little about these bats, although the common vampire bat is much more widespread, and more is known about it.



People and Bats The legendary tale of Dracula and others

When European explores returned from the New world in the 1500’, they told strange tales of blood sucking bats that live in Mexico and South America. We know now however, that vampire bats rarely bother humans, but these stories horrified Europeans. In fact, it wasn’t long before vampire bat stories were combined with the story of Vlad Tepes – a fierce ruler who lived in Eastern Europe at least 100 years earlier.

When this Tepes, who was also known as Vlad the Impaler, faced an invading army that outnumbered his own, he knew that he had to scare off his enemies in order to defeat them. So, like the smart and undoubtedly evil man that he was, he resorted to scare tactics. He hung up the dead bodies of countless enemy soldiers on stakes along the road, and had his soldiers howl like wolves at night. And so do you think his plan worked? Well, heck yes his plan worked! The invaders eventually retreated.

Now, because of all this, Europeans were able to create a new tale. Yes, the Legend of Count Dracula was born. They told tales of how Dracula was a nobleman who slept during the day. They of course, also added in that he drank the blood from peoples necks as they slept. As the story was told again and again, new details were added. Many said that Dracula could transform into a bat, and many also said that he could transform others into vampires. Others still said that these supposed “vampires” could be repelled with garlic, or killed with a stake through the heart. And so the legendary tale of Dracula had become infamous.

This story, undoubtedly caused people of Europe, North America, and South America to fear bats. Despite this, in other parts of the world, many people like bats, For example, in Asia, people believe that bats bring good luck. There are many Chinese designs that depict bats flying in a circle. This design is a symbol of continuous good luck an happiness. As you can see, many people understand that bats don’t really deserve their bad reputation. Many are starting to see all of the ways that bats help humankind.



Myths about Bats

There are many myths about bats, and for the most part they are stories that portray bats in a bad light.

Bats are Blind

As we have learned, bats are not blind and many have keen vision that compares well with our own or that of owls. Why then, do we have that myth?

Virtually all bats are nocturnal, conducting most of their business in the hours of darkness. The eyes of most bats are specialized for nighttime operation, so in bright sunlight, bats tend to squint. Since bats are small to begin with, small squinted eyes are hard to see unless you look very closely.

A casual glance at a bat in bright light leaves the impression that it has no eyes. Echolocation, well known from many bats, also contributes to the myth. It seems natural to assume that animals with this elegant specialization would not need vision at all.

Bats Get into your Hair

While there are many bats that have been trained to land in others hair, there is no `evidence to support the myth that hair seeking is normal in bats. So what natural behavior could account for this myth? Well, insectivores’ bats typically fly near people. This often occurs in the summer when hoards of mosquitoes often surround people. Thus, the bat will fly close to a person in order to eat the mosquitoes.

The second occurs when a bat is flying in a room. When the bat approaches a wall, it will slow down. To counter this stall, it will then swoop low and regain airspeed. To a human, it may appear as if the bat is diving towards human hair.



Origin Of Bats

Scientists think that bats probably first appeared many years even before the oldest known bat bones, perhaps 65 to 100 million years ago. That would mean that bats lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. The earliest known megabats lived 35 million years ago. Many scientists think that they have evolved 9 (developed) from a different ancestor. They think that the megabats may be more closely related to primates than microbats.

The oldest known fossil microbat, called Icaronycteris index was found near Yellowstone Park in Wyoming. It lived 50 million years ago. Fossil bats that lived 45 million years ago have been found in Germany. Some of them were so well preserved that the fossilized remains of insects were found in their gut. Surprisingly, the fossilized bats that were found very closely resemble the bats that we know today.

As far as the vampire bat goes, there has long been the question of why they feed on blood. Many propose that the vampire bat originated from fruit eating bats. Another theory says that the bats developed a taste for blood from feeding on ticks and other blood feeding insects. It is also a mystery that the vampire bat lives in only the new world tropics 9 central and South America). Another theory states that the bats began to feed on insects and insect larvae found in wounds on large animals.
Throughout the tropics, screwworms lay their eggs in wounds and the larvae develop into large numbers. This theory identifies as to why the vampire bat is only found in the new world. None of these theories has been proved, evidence from proteins say that the vampire bat has been around for 6 to 8 million years.



Identifying Bats

Identifying captured bats can be more difficult than finding them. The first step is to decide on whether your captured bat is a male or female. In most bats, this decision is easy because the penises of bats are conspicuous. Also, on many bats, worn areas around the nipples make it easy to recognize the adult females.

Another question, is the age of the bat. This is quite difficult, as young bats grow rapidly. Fur color can provide a clue though, in many bats, the young have dark and blackish fur as compared to the lighter colored fur in adults. Another indicator is found at the finger joints. Adult bats have knobby finger joints, and young bats have smooth ones. The adult ones are knobby because bone formation is complete. The smooth ones of the young reflect incomplete growth.

After detecting the gender and age, the next step is to identify the species. This depends on the variety of bats living where it was caught. Identifying a bat in Hawaii is easy because there is only one species that lives there. But, compare this to the more than 50 species in many parts of Africa, and the more than 100 in some countries in South and Central America.

A first step is to identify which of the 19 living families it belongs to. Sometimes the family name will provide a clue, for example, the New World disk-winged Bats have distinctive adhesive disks on their wrists and ankles and live only in the New World. The Old World Disk-Winged Bats, also have this but occur only in the Old World, only in Madagascar. Usually the details of the bats appearance are used to decide its family affiliations.

Many features may be used to distinguish between species of bats. Wherever possible, they will rely on obvious objective features like size, number of teeth, and color.



Holy Bats

In some parts of the world, places of worship are sanctuaries for people. In some places this protection extends to other creatures, even bats. In India for example, bats often roost in temples. Despite their noisy comings and goings, and the messy droppings, they are usually tolerated.

It may not be surprising that bats are safe in some places of worship, particularly in India where many religious traditions protect the animals. This situation contradicts sharply with the attitudes found in churches in North America. There, in some cases any means of exterminating bats seems acceptable to both the administration and the congregation.

In India the protection may extend beyond artificial places of worship. Near the village of Piliangulam, a huge banyan tree is home to about 500 gigantic flying foxes. The villagers say that the bat colony has been there for at least 80 years. They believe that the bats are protected by a god. Under this tree is a shrine to a god named muni. By protecting the bats in the tree, the villagers maintain favor with muni. They also do not tolerate any others who would harm the bats.



Flying

If anything is for sure, bats are not flying mice. They are however, flying mammals, which is a rare commodity. Flying is very rare among the animal species! Bats are the only mammals capable of powered flight! Now, with that said, you may be thinking, “hey, what about flying squirrels?” Well, unlike bats, flying squirrels can only glide, and they cannot stay in the air very long. Certainly, this makes bats very interesting among mammals. Now, despite their flying ability, they do not closely resemble birds at all! They may have wings but the composition is very different, as you shall soon see.

Sustained powered flight uses a lot of energy as compared to walking the same distance. It is however, a very fast way of getting around and it enables bats to travel large distances in search of food. Flight also enables some bats to catch airborne insects or reach flowering fruits and trees, although, that does not apply to the vampire bat. Sometimes though, it is difficult for the vampire bat to find a decent supply of blood, and so, the bats are able to migrate long distances when food becomes hard to find at certain times of the year. It also allows them to find safe places to roost even when they are far from feeding areas.

Now, bats fly by flapping their wings, much in the same way that birds do. The big difference though, it that rather than feathers, bats have a web of tough skin called a membrane connecting their long, bony fingers – so they really fly with their hands. That is why Chiroptera is the scientific name for all bats; it means “hand wing”. Bats are also able to easily change their wing shape to turn, hover, and do flips. Now, a bats wing consists of stretched skin that is so thin, you can see through it! Because it is so thin, it is also easily damaged. A torn or damaged wing would make flight impossible. Therefore, bats are very careful to avoid bumping into things. So, don’t worry about bats flying into your hair, because it just won’t happen!

A bat has five pointed claws, or toes, on each of its two feet. The skin of a bat’s wing stretches from the fingers to the feet, and even to the tail! When a bats wings are not in use, a bat will fold them to protect the membrane. Bats also spend a lot of time grooming their wing membranes. Yet, amazingly, a bats wings are not used solely for flight. When a bat is cold, it can stretch out its membrane and wrap itself in its wings. On the other hand, when it is too warm, it can stretch out its wings and allow excess heat to escape through the skin. All bats sleep with their head tucked inside their wings.

A bat’s wings are amazingly versatile! When a bat wishes to land, it curls its tail membrane forward and up. This scoops up air, and helps to create a slowing effect called drag. Bats are able to fly by using their strong shoulder and chest muscles to move the wings back and forth, and up and down. Bats are able to stop and glide for a short time, although they are not able to ride the air currents as birds do. As soon as a bats wings stop flapping, its wings begin to fall. It must flap its wings again if it wants to stop falling, or go higher.



When do vampire bats eat?

Of all things “Vampire bat”. There unique choice of food and unique style of acquiring it makes for a very interesting tale. To start off, the vampire bat will leave its roost just after dusk. The vampire bat is able to fly very rapidly as it hunts due to its long and narrow wings. Radio tracking’s show that the vampire bat will return to an area where it has found prey before.

As soon as the vampire bat selects its victim, it lands on the ground. Typically, the animal of choice is some type of cattle or bird like a chicken. The vampire bat will attack a sleeping warm blooded victim. It will generally walk or hop to its prey, gently as to not wake up the animal. To feed, it will find a spot on the victim and with its sharp teeth, make a small bite. It then spits out the piece of skin, and begins to lap up the blood.

Now, the bats saliva keeps the blood from clotting, and keeps the blood flow coming, as it contains special chemicals. The grooves on the back of the vampire bats tongue direct the blood to its mouth. The bat will feed for about eight minutes in order to get enough to eat. Even so, its full meal will only amount to 8 teaspoonfuls of blood. Even so this will be about 60 percent of the bats weight.

When the bat is ready to fly off, it must first lighten its load, and so it urinates the blood plasma out of its system. Now, to deter any previous though of vampire bats being cruel and horrible creatures, it should be known that : vampire bats are known to share meals. Yes, if a hungry and sickly bat begs for food back at the roost, the vampire bat is likely to spit up some of its blood meal so that the other may eat.

There are problems for these vampire bats due to the fact that they eat only blood. Each common vampire bat has about a 7 % chance of not eating on any given night. This is very dangerous as a bat cannot survive for two days straight without eating a meal. Many other blood eating animals like ticks, can go for weeks without a meal. However, the bat is warm blooded, and needs the energy to stay at that temperature. This is why vampire bats are not seen in cold area of the globe.



Vampire Bat societies

Vampire bats are very social creatures, as are many other bat species. Vampire bats will gather together in roosts. The communal roost offers them a place to meet. Other factors also play into this, as roost sites are usually scarce, and so a good bat cave may attract many bats.

These roosts form a structured society which provides a network of social support. Like many other bats, the vampire bat lives a long life. Many survive for up to 20 years in the wild. Evidence shows that these bats will remain with their same roosting group for many years, perhaps even all of their life. The colonies will usually include on male and several females along with the young.

When the bats return from the roost, they will often groom each other. Oftentimes, a bat that has failed to obtain food will beg for food, and the other bat will regurgitate the blood into the mouth of the other. Female vampire bats are particularly sociable as they will both share meals and care for the young of others. This behavior is almost unknown between unrelated individuals of any other type of animal!
As is highly prevalent, vampire bats are highly social creatures. They also have quite the heart! They are not cold and evil beings, but instead are intelligent and sociable bats!



Echolocation

Blind as a bat is an expression people use to describe those who cannot see very well. Now, mind you, bats actually see quite well. Despite this, bats are nocturnal animals and so they hunt when it is dark out. Therefore, they cannot see very well when they are hunting. So they use another form of “seeing” called echolocation. Although, not all bats do this; most megabats do not echolocate.

Most bats, including the vampire bat, begin feeding at dusk. They use their eyes until the light fades away and seeing becomes difficult. Then they use another way of “seeing”, which involves sounds and echoes. In the dark, these bats send about 20 to 30 squeaks or clicks per second. The sounds are so high pitched that we cannot hear them. They have to be high pitched, because the higher the pitch, the smaller the object that can be detected. Each species has its own way of sending out these sounds, through either the nose or the mouth. In the case of the vampire bat, it is through the nose.

The sound waves spread out in a small arc in front of the bat’s face. These sound waves or pulses are also called ultrasound. When the sound waves strike an object they echo, or bounce back. The sound waves are then picked up by the bats ears. Ever wonder why bats have such large ears? Well, that is why. The echoes tell the bat where things are as well as what they are. Now, Vampire bats are also unique among other bats because they are known as leaf nose bats.

Leaf nose bats have highly developed folds of skin called nose-leafs around their nose. Scientists think that these nose leafs help the bat to direct the echolocation calls. Work with these bats has found that the nose-leaf is important in the transmission of echolocation calls. Although bats use echolocation while hunting, it is also used so that they may fly at night without hitting branches or other objects.



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