What animal can fly with its hands, "see" with its ears, AND sleep hanging upside down?

MEET: The Bats from "Our Side of Town"

The neighbourhood bat is often feared by many people and is probably one of the most misunderstood animals in the world.
Looking at the picture above,it is easy to see its similarity with Count Dracula -a myth created around a vampire in his cloak, sucking the blood of innocent people and sleeping the day away!

The truth is that bats are gentle, intelligent animals that are quite timid when it comes to interacting with humans.

Where are bats found?

Bats are found throughout the world except in deserts and polar regions where there are extreme temperatures.
They are therefore one of the most numerous and diverse orders of mammals.

Of the 977 species of bats found in the world (making up a quarter of all the mammal species), 216 species are found in Africa.
There are 51 species in South Africa alone working to keep mosquitoes from bugging you.

The Bats on "Our Side of Town"

The bats found specifically in "our" caves, are of the horseshoe and long -fingered variety.

Rhinolophus darlingii (Darlings horseshoe bat) and Rhinolophus clivosus (Geoforys horseshoe bat) and Miniopterus schreibersii (Schreiber's long-fingered bat) are the only cave-dwelling bats that Earnest Seamark has recorded in the area.

This introductory article and photographs of these bats, will not cover all details of the species, rather some interesting observations that over the years we have been priveleged to witness.

Mammal or Bird -that is the question!

The bat is the only mammal that can truly fly.
Birds fly, but they are in a separate scientific classification.
Since these two animals share the characteristic of flight, are they the same in other ways?

Birds have feathers,hatch their young from eggs and use their eyes and ears to find food.Bats have fur,give birth to live young and use echolocation to find their food.

The body of the horseshoe bat hangs about 75mm low(!) down from the ceiling.It has a wingspan of about 250-300mm,almost the length of a ruler.

The long-fingered bat is slightly smaller in size and hangs differently on the ceiling.
Unlike the horseshoe bat who hangs from his legs and uses his wings as a cloak, the long-fingered bat hangs from his legs and uses the hooks on his wings to hold himself against the wall.

The wing of a bat is actually its hand. (Bats are of the order Chiroptera, Latin for "hand wing.")

When the human arm and hand are compared to the bats wing, it can be seen that they are similar in structure.

The bats fingers are elongated with membranous skin between each of the fingers making up the wing.

The wing is made up of the forearm and extended "fingers" of the hand. The third, fourth, and fifth fingers, or digits, of the hand support most of the wing membrane.

The thumb is a tiny hook on top of the wing. The wing membrane connects with the body, back legs, and, in most bats, encloses the tail.

In flight, a bat can catch extra food by flicking an insect in the direction of his tail.

The membranous skin - a continuation of the wing - can be folded over to catch the prey and hold it in place until it is back at the roost.

Bats and their Young

Bats can live up to 25 years and usually have only one young each year, yet twins have been reported.

As with other mammals, the baby bat is born alive and is fed milk by the mother.Unlike other mammals however, bats are born against the law of gravity-the mother gives birth to her young while she is hanging upside down!
Females nest in large colonies and all share the duties in the nursery.

In extremely hot conditions, the mothers will spread the young to enable them to cool down.If the temperature drops, the mothers huddle them all close together.

Consider this and be amazed:-
the females leave the roost in search of food and the youngsters huddle together.
Upon returning, each mother can locate her young in the dark using her senses of smell and hearing amidst hundreds of others calling for food!

Feeding Habits

Bats feed at night, catching insects such as moths, flying beetles and mosquitos.
You are most likely to see bats swirling around a streetlight as they devour your local mosquito population.
Bats are the only major predators of night-flying insects.It is believed that a single bat can eat up to 3000 insects per night-a vast majority being mosquitos.

Echolocation

How on earth are bats able to steer through the darkness of night and the total blackness of caves with such ease and accuracy? They use a highly developed ultrasonic sound to locate insects.

Bats send a high frequency sound that bounces off objects. They hear these echoes and locate, identify, and capture moving prey while flying through the dark. This process is called echolocation.

An exhibition of the breathless accuracy of the echolocation of a bat:
We were witness to a bat flying over a small lake in a dark cave. It scooped drinking water in flight with the speed and grace of a swallow.This was not something only seen once-it did this three or four times in succession.

Another surprising incident was in a small cave in Swaziland where a roost of bats flew out in broad daylight and were able to navigate at speed through the dense branches of a tree utilizing eyesight and echolocation to remarkable effect.

Hopefully this article has shed a bit of light on a little creature who lives out his life in the dark zone - a place not many have had the pleasure of experiencing.

The bat, unbeknown to him, struggles with a poor image world-wide and it is up to people like us, to conserve the world as he knows it-he most certainly cannot do it.

Information courtesy of E.C.J. Seamark and D. Baxter. in prep. Beginners guide to bats.
Photographs courtesy of Garfield Krige