15 Astonishing Facts About Bats

CreativeNature-nl/iStock via Getty Images
CreativeNature-nl/iStock via Getty Images

Roughly one in five mammal species is a bat. You may have heard of the famous vampire bats that feed on blood, but some lesser-known species use sonar to catch fish, scurry across the ground like mice, build their own tents, and even stick to sheer walls with suction cups. Let’s get face to face with some of the most bizarre bats in the world.

1. Some bats can stick to vertical walls.

If you want to attach something to a smooth vertical surface—a car window, maybe, or a slippery shower wall—you might use a suction cup. Disk-winged bats use them, too. They have special cups on their ankles and wrists that help them stick to smooth tropical leaves. This gives them a high, safe place to rest in the bustling tropical forest. Sucker-footed bats, meanwhile, hang on using wet adhesion—they ooze a liquid that helps them cling to a surface.

2. Some bats can catch fish.

Paul Colley/iStock via Gett Images

When bats hunt insects at night, they find their prey with an amazing sonar-like ability called echolocation—they make sounds that bounce off objects, then listen to the echoes for clues about what’s ahead. But the greater bulldog bat, which is named for its dog-like face, uses this sonar to catch fish. Flying above the water, it senses telltale ripples caused by the underwater movements of its prey. It skims the surface with its large feet and swiftly snatches a slippery meal. 

3. One species of bat weighs less than a penny.

Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is the world’s smallest bat—and, in fact, it’s in the running for the world’s smallest mammal. This animal is just a little over an inch (33 millimeters) long and weighs less than a penny. It’s also unique: its ancestors split off from other bats more than 40 million years ago. Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is native to Burma and Thailand, where it’s vulnerable to habitat destruction.

4. A few bats construct tents.

If you take a backwoods survival class, you’ll learn to build a shelter out of the natural material around you. And if you’re like most beginners, your first few shelters might fall down or let in too much rain. Shelter-building is a hard skill to master—but some bats have got it down. They gnaw the veins of a large tropical leaf, making it fold into a tent that protects them from rainfall and predators. One of these tent-making species is the Honduran white bat. A group of these animals snuggling under their tent looks like a pile of marshmallows.

5. Other bats crawl around on the ground.

When a New Zealand lesser short-tailed bat is hungry, it hits the ground. It folds its wings up tight and uses them as forelegs as it scurries, mouse-like, across the forest floor in search of a snack. This bat’s diet is very diverse—it will eat nectar, pollen, berries, insects, and more. 

6. Bats come in amazing patterns.

Bats aren’t just brown. The painted woolly bat of Southeast Asia is orange and black like a jack-o'-lantern. Indonesia’s stripe-faced fruit bat is also ready for Halloween with some spooky makeup. Then there’s the stunning pied bat; an inhabitant of central and western Africa, it has striking white blotches that make it look like a badger or a panda. These are just a few of the world’s many, many beautifully patterned bats.

7. The stylish bat has amazing hair (and ears).

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, Chapin’s free-tailed bat has a wicked hairstyle. Females sport a small tuft of fur that sticks up, but males have much larger crests that play a role in their courtship, and also just look cool.

8. Some bats sing love songs.

Move over, nightingales. The males of several bat species woo their mates with tunes that are every bit as complex as those of songbirds. For instance, to construct a proper song, a Brazilian free-tailed bat needs to follow certain rules and patterns, but like a great improvisational musician, he also adds his own special style that marks him as unique.

How do bats learn these complicated songs? They pick them up from their parents. The greater sac-winged bat of Central and South America hones its singing skills as a baby. Like human kids, young sac-winged bats babble as they try to copy their dads’ sounds.

9. This bat has a horse's head.

Bats have some truly bizarre faces, but one of the all-time weirdest belongs to the male hammer-headed fruit bat of equatorial Africa. Females of this species have a relatively ordinary foxlike head. But males have heads that are almost three times as large as a female’s. Their faces look even weirder from the front. Why that giant face and protruding lips? They help this bat make a unique honking call.

10. Some bats eat scorpions.

Charlotte Roemer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

The desert long-eared bat chows down on scorpions—and doesn’t mind being stung in the face as it pounces on its prey. Native to parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, this bat catches scorpions by attacking their heads. The scorpions vigorously defend themselves by stinging the bat on its face and body. Unperturbed, the bat dispatches its meals and carries them back to a roost. There, it gulps down every bit of a scorpion—even the stinger.

The desert long-eared bat isn’t fussy about which scorpion species it hunts. It’ll even chow down on the deathstalker, one of the few scorpions in the world whose sting is potentially deadly to humans.

11. Many bats pollinate flowers.

Bees are famous for pollinating crops, and they help us grow such familiar foods as apples, pumpkins, and macadamia nuts. But bats are pollinators, too. Those huge Saguaro cacti of the U.S. Southwest, for example, bloom in the evening to attract pollinating bats. And the agaves that give us tequila are also bat-pollinated; they make stinky flowers on tall stalks that open at night. Wild bananas rely on bats, too.

12. One bat's tongue is longer than its body.

The tube-lipped nectar bat’s tongue is 1.5 times the length of its body. This bat uses its monstrous tongue to reach tasty nectar that’s deep inside long-tubed flowers. When the tongue’s not in use, it’s stored in the bat’s chest, next to its heart.

13. Some bats are freakin' huge.

BirdHunter591/iStock via Getty Images

Certain fruit-eating bats have a wingspan of over 5 feet. One of the largest is the golden-capped fruit bat of the Philippines. Named for its shock of blond “hair,” it can weigh more than 2.5 pounds. It roosts in large numbers and dines on fruit such as figs. Deforestation and hunting, however, have put serious pressure on this batty behemoth.

14. Moths can jam a bat's sonar.

Many insect-eating bats use echolocation to hunt down their flying prey. But some moths fight back. They rub their genitals together to make sounds that interfere with a bat’s sonar. Confused, the hungry bats zero in on the wrong location and bite at empty air.

This acoustic warfare isn’t just limited to bats vs. moths. Researchers have found that Mexican free-tailed bats seem to jam each other’s signals when they’re competing for prey.

15. This bat's face doesn't even look like a face.

We’ve established that bats have weird faces. Some bats have yellow tube-shaped nostrils. Some look like their faces collapsed inward. Some are mostly made of ears. But let’s end this list with one of the most extraordinary-looking species. Bourret's horseshoe bat, which lives in Southeast Asia, has a face that suggests an origami project gone wrong. Why the long nose? It’s perfectly shaped to help focus the bat’s sonar.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

12 Fascinating Facts About Elephants

Photo by David Heiling on Unsplash

Known for their strong family bonds and intelligence, elephants have fascinated humans across time and cultures. As the largest living land mammal, a male African bush elephant typically stands more than 10 feet tall and weighs an incredible 6.6 tons. Although poachers still kill approximately 100 African elephants every day, conservation groups are working to save elephant populations from extinction. Read on for a dozen things you might not know about elephants, from their long history as a political symbol to their legit firefighting skills.

1. Contrary to popular belief, elephants are not exactly scared of mice.

Baby elephant looks startled.
iStock.com/szaphotography

Cartoonists have long depicted the funny juxtaposition of a giant elephant terrified of a tiny mouse. Zoologists and elephant trainers have conducted experiments to test whether elephants are truly afraid of rodents, and it seems to be a myth. Mice themselves don't frighten elephants, but the pachyderms have poor vision and can get extremely startled when anything suddenly scurries by. Elephants are probably more afraid of a mouse's sudden movement than the mouse itself.

2. Wild elephants could have populated the U.S., but abraham Lincoln nixed the idea.

A mother and baby elephant taking a walk.
iStock.com/saha_avijan

In 1861, President Lincoln received gifts, including elephant tusks and a handmade sword, from Siam's King Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut. The king of present-day Thailand also made an interesting offer: Mongkut proposed that Siam would send pairs of male and female elephants to the U.S. to breed in the forests. Americans could then tame the wild elephants and put them to work for the economic benefit of the country. William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state, replied to Mongkut in 1862, graciously declining his offer. He told the king that since the U.S. already used steam power to efficiently transport goods within the country, elephants simply wouldn't be practical.

3. Trunk-sucking is the elephant equivalent of thumb-sucking.

Baby elephant sucking its trunk.
iStock.com/bucky_za

When baby elephants want to comfort themselves, they instinctively start sucking their trunks. Trunk-sucking is also a way that a baby elephant can learn how to use her trunk (which contains between 40,000 and 50,000 muscles). Although most elephants, like human babies, grow out of sucking behavior, some adult elephants also suck their trunks when they feel anxious.

4. Elephants have been the symbol of the Republican Party since 1874.

Elephant symbol for the Republican party.
iStock.com/Niyazz

Although elephants had been occasionally used as a symbol for Republicans during the Civil War, cartoonist Thomas Nast, who drew an elephant in an 1874 issue of Harper's Weekly, gets the credit for linking the animal with the political party. In later cartoons, Nast continued to draw an elephant to portray the Republican Party, and other cartoonists adopted it, establishing the animal as the GOP symbol.

5. Barnum & Bailey once trained elephants to play baseball.

U.S. stamp with a circus elephant on it.
iStock.com/Valerie Loiseleux

Baseball is America's pastime, so why not teach elephants how to play the game? In 1912, thanks to the work of Barnum & Bailey's elephant trainer, Harry L. Mooney, the intelligent animals played their first ballgame. Although playing baseball was just one of many tricks that circus elephants learned, Barnum & Bailey capitalized on the concept of elephant baseball by using the image on posters to sell tickets for shows.

6. Some elephants have been convicted of murder.

Elephant foot in chains.
iStock.com/Pentium2

Although elephants are typically viewed as gentle giants, they are capable of attacking and killing humans. Male elephants undergo musth, a hormonal change that makes them temporarily produce tons of testosterone, resulting in aggression. But even female elephants can kill. In 1916, a town in Tennessee charged an elephant named Big Mary with first-degree murder for killing her handler. Big Mary, who worked for the Sparks Circus, attacked her handler, possibly after he struck her with a bullhook as she was trying to eat a watermelon rind. Big Mary was convicted and sentenced to execution. Some 2500 residents of the town gathered to watch Big Mary's dramatic hanging, which featured a 100-ton crane and a chain that broke under her weight.

7. Elephants grieve death.

Elephants mourning the death of a baby elephant.
iStock.com/brittak

Although we can't know exactly what elephants feel and how they process death, they seem to show signs that they experience grief when a member of their family (or another elephant) dies. When they see a dead elephant, they may vocalize, use their trunks to "hug" the dead animal, or stay with the carcass for hours. Some elephants have also tried to bury the dead body by covering it in leaves and soil.

8. Trained elephants fight fires in Indonesia.

Elephant with water spewing out of its trunk.
Ishara S.KODIKARA, AFP/GettyImages

You probably won't see an elephant riding on a fire truck anytime soon, but elephants in Indonesia are a vital part of fighting fires. In 2015, East Sumatra was plagued with multiple fires over a period of several months, so 23 trained elephants from a conservation center went to work. Carrying water pumps and hoses, the elephants helped patrol the land and made sure that new fires weren't ignited.

9. If you're in Zambia, you might see some elephants strolling through your hotel lobby.

An elephant walks into the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia.
An elephant walks into the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia.
Lars Plougmann, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Some guests at Mfuwe Lodge in the African country of Zambia get an unusual animal sighting before they even leave the lobby. Each year between October and December, families of elephants walk through the lodge's reception area to eat wild mango from a tree in the courtyard. The elephants' giant size and seeming indifference to their hotel lobby surroundings make for quite a striking sight.

10. In 2015, scientists recorded elephants yawning for the first time.

An elephant's open mouth.
iStock.com/filrom

Although scientists speculated that elephants probably yawn, scientists from the University of California, Davis captured the first video of an elephant yawning. If you enjoy watching sleepy animals stretching and yawning, this is for you. Warning: extreme cuteness ahead.

11. Elephants starred in YouTube's first-ever video.

Man taking a photo of an elephant on his phone.
iStock.com/iudmylaSupynska

On April 23, 2005, Jawed Karim made internet history when he uploaded the first video to a certain nascent video-sharing website. Karim, one of YouTube's founders, posted an 18-second scene of himself standing in front of elephants at a zoo. In the video, he speaks about how cool the elephants' long trunks are. As of August 2019, the video has more than 74 million views.

12. Elephants love to snack on old Christmas trees.

Two elephants snacking on pine trees.
VADIM KRAMER, AFP/Getty Images

Zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin, a zoo in Germany, feed unsold Christmas trees to their elephants in early January. The trees are certified pesticide-free, and the elephants seem to enjoy their special snack. Berlin isn't the only place where elephants eat Christmas trees, though. Zoos in Prague also treat their elephants to the tasty conifers.