What is a Bat’s Natural Diet?
If you watch a colony of bats wheeling and soaring in the twilight, you know that they are voracious consumers of mosquitoes and other flying bugs. In fact, of several hundred species of bats, some 70 percent of them are insect eaters. And they’ve been doing it for a long time: archaeologists digging in Wyoming have detected pollen on fossilized wing scales of moths consumed by bats and have dated them to more than 45 million years ago.
And while insects and arthropodes such as spiders, centipedes, scorpions and small crustaceans continue to provide the bulk of the diet of most of the bat species, many of the others have a surprisingly diverse diet, natural to it and directly related to where it lives.
Besides flying insects, many bats eat fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and small mammals. Fisherman bats, for example, feed on fiddler crabs. Others prefer nectar, pollen fruits and seeds fruits and even other bats. Since Bram Stoker invented Count Dracula, many people assumed that vampire bats were out to suck their blood but in fact, the hungry vamps don’t even suck: they pierce the skin of the host animal and lick the blood as it oozes out.
There are many species of bat and often they have highly specialized diets, with physical characteristics that have evolved to serve them. Nectar-feeding bats, for example, are equipped with long tongues that enable them to thrust deep into a flower to access their nutrition source. When not in use, the tongue recedes into a cavity between the animal’s heart and lungs.
Some bats rely on their sense of sight to feed: for example, certain violet flowers reflect ultra-violet light that the bats can perceive and which informs them of a rich source of nectar. A spear-nosed South American bat is especially adapted to feed on both vertebrates and fruits. A bat species native to the American Southwest feeds on scorpions.
The bats most commonly observed are the small ones that tend to nest in trees and in buildings, and which normally come out to feed at night. Their physical characteristics have evolved to provide them with amazing maneuverability in flight, enabling them to scoop up literally hundreds of insects in a single feeding. This maneuverability is augmented by a unique echo-location capability with which they can both sense the presence of in insect and also home in on it.
Nevertheless, while watching a colony of bats emerge from a building to feed at twilight is an awesome sight, it reveals only one aspect of the bat world’s fascinating dietary tale.
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