A bat hangs on a tree branch. A bat hangs on a tree branch. A bat hangs on a tree branch. (Photo: beejung / Shutterstock)

7 surprising facts about bats

Did you know we probably wouldn't have tequila without these mysterious mammals?

You may not know it from movies, but bats don't just sit around in the dark, waiting for the opportunity to fly into someone's hair. They're busy. They've got stuff to do. No one knows this more than Dr. Yossi Yovel, a zoology professor at Tel Aviv University, who has spent his career indulging his fascination with bats – specifically, the way bats communicate with sonar. He even runs an actual "Bat Lab" out of the Israeli university. He told us a few things about these flying mammals.

They can tell an apple tree from a pine tree by its echo alone.

The pine trees of Oulanka National Park in Finnish LaplandMany bats roost in pine trees. (Photo: Popova Valeriya/Shutterstock)

"Most of what we can do with vision, they can do with echoes," Yovel told From the Grapevine.

Knowing this fact, Yovel attempted to study this phenomenon further in pretty much the coolest way possible: by building an animal-inspired robot that emits sonar based on the echoes of trees, and another robot that could hear the sonar and determine which kind of tree was associated with it. Basically, robot bats (though they couldn't fly).

He found that the machines, which were based on how bats perceive sound, could effectively tell the difference between the two tree types.


Without them, there would be no tequila or Bacardi.

margaritaBats and agaves may not be able to survive without one another. (Photo: Cameron Whitman/Shutterstock)

Thought bats didn't affect your life? Just try making a margarita without one. Long-nosed bats are the main pollinators of agave, the plant used to make tequila. These bat populations may be declining thanks to people using their roosting places for growing crops and taking away their food sources. So if you want to keep your favorite cocktails, you may have to start getting into conservation.

Bats also pollinate sugar cane plants and eat the insects that prey on such plants. And sugar cane is where Bacardi comes from.

"That’s why the symbol of Bacardi is actually a bat," says Yovel.


Bats can live a pretty long time.

As far as mammals go, the larger the animal, the longer it lives ... except for bats, which can live up to 40 years, despite being the smallest mammals on the planet (they've got competition from shrews though, who are also pretty tiny).

When it comes to lifespan, "bats are completely off the charts," Yovel explains.

Scientists don't know why this is so, but they theorize it's because bats produce so few children – a mother bat has a baby only once or twice a year, which may increase that child's odds of survival. Go moms!


They can recognize each other by voice.

bats hanging from a caveScientists at Tel Aviv University are studying the foraging habits of bats. (Photo: Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock)

Bats emit sounds using sonar to "hear" what's going on in their world. But they also communicate with each other the way people do: with their voices. Bats can recognize one another using either method. Which might explain why they're such social animals.


They can fly dozens of miles back to the same tree every night.

Bats can travel around 50 miles per night, yet they always manage to get back to their roosting tree (because even bats like to feel at home). Probably all that awesome sonar has something to do with it.

And finally, it's mythbusting time:


Bats actually see quite well.

batsSome bats in Asia use their wings for sonar. (Photo: KOO/Shutterstock)

Many people think that bats are blind and can only get around with echolocation, but Yovel says bats actually see perfectly well. “Some bats probably see better than us," he says.

Pshh... Some animals get all the cool tricks ...


They don't get entangled in your hair.

These guys see you and also pinpoint your location with sonar. They're not about to accidentally get stuck in your hair, no matter how voluptuous your locks may be. But you may be able to convince one to give you a unique hairdo.

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