Bats are not the most loved animals on earth. Many people are terrified of these tiny flying creatures because of their strange features. But these mammals, like many other animal species, are very important in our ecosystem.
Bats belong to the order of Chiroptera. They are the only mammals that can fly and their unique wings allow them to be much more maneuverable than birds. There are over 1,200 species of bat in the world. The smallest bats are only 34 millimeters in length with a wingspan of just 150mm while the largest bat species has a wingspan of 1.7meters.
These mammals are not commonly kept as pets. They do offer humans quite a few benefits because their diet keeps insect infestations under control and bat dung is often harvested as fertilizer for plants.
Despite their usefulness, these mammals can carry many diseases such as rabies.
Raising a bat or caring for bats isn’t the easiest of tasks. This is because the diet of bats can vary based on their species. Some are strictly herbivores, others are omnivores and some are carnivores. It is important to identify the specific bat specie you have before you attempt to feed these animals.
Here is a quick look at the most common food that most bat species consume.
Bats do not require much water to survive. They get most of their water from the foods they consume. Some species may choose to drink water from sources like streams and they drink water by dipping their tongues into the water as they fly over the source.
Most small bat species are insectivores. These species usually focus on small insect species that they can snatch right out of the air. Bats hunt insects through echolocation. When these frequencies bounce back against objects, they know that something is there and can catch the prey. Their poor eyesight makes it less likely for bats to consume crawling insects.
These insectivores will consume a huge variety of insect types such as flies, mosquitos, beetles, moths, grasshoppers, bees, mayflies, and a great many others. Some of the insects are consumed in mid-flight while others are carried back to the bats roost for consumption.
Omnivore or herbivore bat species are important to the ecosystem because they help spread seeds to establish new plants. These bats usually prefer ripe fruits. They will carry the fruits back to their roost and usually consume fruit juices while the spit out pulp and seeds of fruits.
Nectar eating bats have long muzzles and long tongues. This allows them to reach deep into flowers so they can reach the nectar. Without bats, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy many fruits like bananas, avocados, mangos, and many others. By feeding on nectar, bats help pollinate plants, and 500 plant species rely on bat pollination to flourish.
Nectar eating bats are quite vulnerable. The long design of their muzzles makes it very hard for them to consume other types of food. They can consume other foods but will likely starve if there are no flowering plants to feed on.
Larger carnivore bat species like the fringe-lipped bat can catch small vertebrates. These bats will catch and eat a variety of vertebrate species such as fish, frogs, lizards, birds, and tiny mammals. The greater notable bat is a good example of a bird-eating bat specie that can catch birds in mid-flight. The greater bulldog bat, on the other hand, uses their echolocation to detect ripples on the water surface so they can catch fish.
Some bat species like vampire bat species can only survive by feeding on blood. These bats usually focus on large mammals such as cattle but some species can feed on smaller animals like birds.
To find prey, these bats usually use their heat sensors to identify blood vessels close to an animal’s skin. The bat will bite into the animal’s skin and lap up the blood with their tongues. An anticoagulant in these bat’s saliva keeps blood from clotting so these bats can get a generous helping of blood from their victims.
In harsh conditions, bats may try to feed on different types of foods than their usual diet.
Nectar eating bats, for example, will try to feed on fruits. Blood or meat-eating bats can also resolve to eat insects if they are starving.
While bats can have a few diet variations, they typically do not do too well on these alternative food sources.
You should be very careful when feeding bats. They are not too likely to lash out and attack you unless they feel threatened.
With that said, bats can carry many diseases and their razor-sharp teeth can bite quite fiercely.
If you are feeding wild bats, you should offer their foods in a dedicated feeding area. If you are feeding an orphaned bat, it is best to offer foods via tweezers or on a plate to prevent these animals from accidentally nibbling your fingers.
Bats can consume quite a lot of food considering their size. Fruit bats, for example, can eat more than twice their own body weight. Insectivorous bats can eat over 120% of their body weight in one night.
They are able to consume so much food because bats travel significant distances during the night and require lots of food to stay energized.
The amount of food a bat consumes does, however, depend on their specie and their age.
A baby bat is called a pup. These mammals are tiny when they are born but they do grow very fast.
As mammals, they rely on their mother’s milk for survival. You can, however, save an orphaned bat by offering it a milk formula. Bats cannot consume just any type of milk formula and different species may require different types of formula. It is important to contact a vet before offering orphaned bat milk so you can find the correct type of milk based on its specie.
Some tiny bat species only need a few drops to 1ml of milk per feeding during the first few weeks of life. They usually receive feedings 4 times per day and bats can increase their food consumption as they grow. Tiny bats can be fed by using gauze or a foam tip while others are fed through a dripper.
Most bat species can start to consume whole foods from 6 weeks on. It is important to introduce solid foods slowly and in small sizes.
It is especially important to offer the bat the right type of food depending on its specie.
Bats usually wean themselves. They are ready to survive on solid foods when they no longer accept milk from the mother or from the caretaker.
In the wild, bats can only consume foods they find in their environment. They all rely on their mother’s care for survival until they are fully grown.
Bat species consume different types of foods. Fruit bats tend to live in tropical regions with lots of natural fruits. Nectar eating bats also live in tropical regions with lots of fruit and flowering plants because they consume nectar from flowers.
Insectivores are found all over in any climate because they can find insects in just about any region.
Carnivore bats will catch and eat various foods such as fish, mice, lizards, and more.
If you are trying to feed wild bats, you should first identify the species. Once you have identified the species, you will know what to offer wild bats.
Carnivore bat species do catch and eat mice. These bats are usually larger than insectivorous bat species. There are quite a few species of bat that are happy to catch and consume mice.
Not all bat species can eat fruit. But some species like the Jamaican fruit bat rely on fruits for their survival. These bats will eat all sorts of fruits and they are very important to forests because they help spread fruit seeds to establish new growths.
Large bat species like the greater bulldog bat, the ghost bat, the spectral bat, and others do eat meat.
They will catch all sorts of small animals such as fish, frogs, lizards, birds, mice, and other tiny mammals. Some bat species do tend to focus on certain animal species for meat. A good example is the greater bulldog bat that focuses on hunting fish.
Most carnivore bat species can and will catch and eat rat babies. Fully grown rats are however quite large. Only bigger bat species like the greater noctule bat and a few others have the strength and large teeth to successfully catch and eat rats.
Bats are not the most handsome mammals on earth, but they certainly are the most fascinating.
These mammals do have quite a delicate digestive system and it is very important to offer bats, and especially orphaned bats, the right foods. With the correct foods and care, these bats can flourish so they can continue to play their part in the ecosystem.