You probably relate bats to all the vampire and the Dracula stories that your aunts have told you around the fireplace. You probably even feel scared of bats.

So what makes the bat so mysterious?

Bats are nocturnal, which means they hunt at night and sleep during the day. They roost in dark, hidden places, making them hard to find and harder to study. But what we do know about bats is fascinating — they are the only mammals to have left the trees and learned to fly.

And although their flight can be as silent as an owl’s, bats are more closely related to their fellow mammals than they are to birds.

As strange as bats sometimes look, they are not frightening or dangerous. They are actually quite gentle, and are a great benefit to the environment.

Hunting styles:

From ancient times, people have been fascinated by the bat’s ability to soar through the night without crashing into things. In the 1930’s, scientists discovered that insect-eating bats have a kind of natural sonar that allows them to ‘see’ with their ears! Using only sound, bats can track and seize their prey in total darkness. Once the bat has zeroed in on its target, it grabs the prey with its mouth or scoops it up with its wings or tail membrane. Fruit-eating bats rely on sight and smell.

Favourite food:

Bats are the world’s most important predators of night-flying insects. They have a huge appetite for their size. Their favourite foods include beetles, moths, flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, crickets, and sometimes even scorpions. Some tropical-dwelling bats prefer fruit or flower nectar. Still others eat fish, frogs, mice, or small birds.

All bats can drink water by flying low over a stream or lake and dipping their mouths under the surface; some get all the water they need from the fruit and insects they eat.

Baby bats:

Like all mammals, bats are warm-blooded, have fur to help keep them warm in cold weather, and their babies are born alive.

For the first few weeks of its life, a baby bat lives on its mother’s milk and clings to her fur. When the mother must go out to hunt, the baby is often left in a nursery colony with other babies, where they cluster together for warmth. Mother bats carry their babies in flight only when they are frightened and need to find a new home.

Their home:

Bats are found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. Of the nearly thousand different species of bats in the world, about 40 species live in the US and Canada. Most species live in warm tropical areas where there are many insects, fruits, and flowers. But bats are also found in swamps, deserts, grasslands, and even in very cold regions. Some common bat ‘homes’ are caves, tall trees, bushes, barns, and fence-posts.

All over the world, bat populations are shrinking. An organisation called Bat Conservation International works to eliminate the scary myths about bats and create an appreciation for the service that bats provide. — Compiled

Fact file:

• Bats are nocturnal — they hunt at night and sleep during the day.

• They roost or live in dark, hidden places like caves, tall trees, bushes and barns.

• They are the only mammals that have learned to fly.

• Insect-eating bats ‘see’ with their ears.

• Fruit-eating bats rely on sight and smell to hunt.

• Bats have fur to help keep them warm in the cold.