Called creepy, scary and spooky, bats often get a bad rap. They’re an important species that impact our daily lives in ways we might not even realize. From pollinating our favorite fruits to eating pesky insects to inspiring medical marvels, bats are heroes of the night.
There are more than 1,300 species of bats in the world, making them the second most common group of mammals after rodents. Some weigh less than a penny, while others have a wingspan of six feet, but all are impressive and vital members of their ecosystems.
The scientific name for bats is Chiroptera, which is Greek for “hand wing.” That’s because bats have four long fingers and a thumb, each connected to the next by a thin layer of skin. They are the only mammals in the world that can fly, and they are remarkably good at it. Their flexible skin membrane and movable joints allow them to change direction quickly and catch mosquitoes in midair.
#1 Buettikofer’s Epauletted Fruit Bat
Nicolas Nesif – Despite what it looks like, this is a bat, not a dog. So no pets for this good boy! Buettikofer’s epauletted fruit bat is a species of megabats that can be found in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
There are two main types of bats: microbats and megabats. Most bats are microbats, which eat insects like moths, that come out at night. Vampire bats are the only species of microbats that feed on blood rather than insects. But not to worry—they prefer to drink from cattle and horses, not humans.
To navigate dark caves and hunt after dark, microbats rely on echolocation, a system that allows them to locate objects using sound waves. They echolocate by making a high-pitched sound that travels until it hits an object and bounces back to them. This echo tells them an object’s size and how far away it is.
In contrast, megabats live in the tropics and eat fruit, nectar, and pollen. They have larger eyes and a stronger sense of smell than microbats but have smaller ears because they don’t echolocate. There are more than 150 species of megabats, which are usually, but not always, larger than microbats.
#2 Honduran White Bat
Leyo – These little balls of fluff are called Honduran white bats. They can be found in the lowland rainforests of eastern Honduras, northern Nicaragua, eastern Costa Rica, and western Panama. Honduran white bats have a thin black membrane on top of their skull that is believed to serve as protection from ultraviolet radiation—just like sunscreen
#3 Pied Bats
The species of pied bats or badger bats resembles a bee; some even compare it to a panda. These little cuties are not only rare, but also truly unique. “Its cranial characters, its wing characters, its size, the ears—literally everything you look at doesn’t fit. It’s so unique that we need to create a new genus,” said one of the species’ discoverers DeeAnn Reeder.
#4 Giant Golden-Crowned Flying Fox
While this bat may very cute and may not entirely belong on this list, however, there’s something peculiar about it. It is huge. And we are talking close to the human baby-sized kind of huge. Flying foxes have a wingspan of 5 feet (1.5 meters) and their bodies are 11 to 13 in (27 to 32 cm) in length. They are native to Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, and Thailand. The viral one in the picture was captured in the Philippines.
#5 Hammer-Headed Bat
Sarah H. Olson – Contrary to what their appearance may suggest, hammer-headed bats are completely harmless. They inhabit equatorial Africa and feed on fruits. In case you’re wondering what is up with their faces, they have large resonating chambers that produce vocalizations to attract females, which means that only males look like this.
#6 Yellow-winged Bat
Oleg Chernyshov – While we tend to think of bats as dark-colored animals, this false vampire bat proves us wrong. The yellow-winged bat can be found in the moist lowland forests and moist savannas of Africa. It feeds on various insects.
#7 Spotted Bat
Paul Cryan – The spotted bat gets its name from three distinctive white spots on its black back. It has probably the largest ears of any bat species in North America, which are around 4cm long.
Bats can be found nearly everywhere, except in polar regions, extreme deserts, and a few isolated islands. They spend their daylight hours hiding in roosts around the tropics, dense forests, and wetlands. Roosts are where bats go to rest, usually in cracks and crevices that keep them hidden and protected. The most common roosts are existing structures such as caves, tree hollows, and old buildings.
Seasons often dictate where any bats choose their homes. depending on the time of year because they hibernate during the winter. For example, in the winter, some may hibernate in caves, and in the summer, they’ll return to an attic. Because good roosts can be hard to find, many live in giant colonies with millions of other bats.
No matter where they spend their seasons, all bats roost upside down. They can hang from their hind feet and legs while resting. Scientists still aren’t sure why bats do this, but here’s one theory: Bats have to fall into flight, which makes hanging upside down the best way to escape quickly.
#8 Little White-shouldered Bat
Wilson Bilkovich – Despite how unsettling it looks, the little White-shouldered bat is a completely harmless creature that feeds on fruit and forages from the forest floor to the canopy. They can be found in South and Central America.
Despite all the misconceptions surrounding bats, they are very important to humans and the environment. Insect-eating microbats consume millions of bugs a night, acting as a natural pest control for plants. Thanks to bats, farmers might rely less on toxic pesticides, which costs them millions of dollars each year. Nectar-drinking bats pollinate plants so they can produce fruit. In fact, more than 500 plant species, including mangoes, bananas, and avocados, depend on bats for pollination. Finally, fruit-eating bats help disperse seeds so rainforests can grow, helping to mitigate the effects of widespread deforestation.
#9 Rafinesque’s Big-Eared Bat
USDA – This odd little cutie is called Rafinesque’s big-eared bat. These bats with rabbit-like ears can be found throughout most of the south-central and southeastern United States. They prefer to eat various insects and live lengthy lives. The longest recorded lifespan of a Rafinesque’s big-eared bat was ten years and one month old.
#10 Chapin’s Free-Tailed Bat
This mohawk-rocking bat is called Chapin’s free-tailed bat. Its most distinctive feature is a crest of hair on top of its head, which is especially well-developed in breeding males and helps to disperse scent from a gland at its base. These bats inhabit central and southern Africa.
#11 Eastern Tube-Nosed Bat
tolgabathospital – This little fella may not be the prettiest, but he’s definitely a little cute. Just look at those tiny toothsies! Native to Australia, this eastern tube-nosed bat feeds solely on fruit.
#12 Desert Long-Eared Bat
This fluffy nightmare fuel is called the desert long-eared bat and can be found in North Africa and the Middle East. These badass bats are known to enjoy eating scorpions, including the highly venomous Palestine yellow scorpion.
#13 Wrinkle-Lipped Free-Tailed Bat
This smug-looking fella has a lot to be proud of. Scientists believe that this insectivorous bat potentially acts as a biological pest control agent. It is found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.
#14 Hairless Bat
Tasnim choudhury – As it turns out, not all bats are furry. Take, for instance, this hairless bat that resides in Southeast Asia and Oceania.
#15 Pendlebury’s Roundleaf Bat
Sébastien J. Puechmaille – Pendlebury’s roundleaf bat is a large bat with dark brown fur. It can be easily recognized by a muzzle that has 4 lateral leaflets. It is estimated that there are only 4,700 bats in its population.
#16 Bulldog Bats
#17 Visored Bat
#18 Common Vampire Bat
This cute-looking bloodsucker is called a common vampire bat. Luckily common, in this case, don’t mean “widespread” and these bats can only be found in some parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America. However, their name does suggest their feeding habits. These leaf-nosed bats do enjoy mammalian blood, particularly that of livestock. While they do not pose a real threat to humans, one should be advised to not handle them or visit where common vampire bats live.
#19 White-Throated Round-Eared Bat
Desmodus – The white-throated round-eared bat can be found in South and Central America. It feeds on both insects and fruit.
#20 Little Yellow-Shouldered Bats
These medium-sized Yellow-shouldered bats are natives to North and South America. They prefer to eat fruits and play an important role in the dispersal of seeds of tropical plants and pollinating flowering plants.
#21 White-Winged Vampire Bat
Gcarter2 – This member of the vampire bat species can be found in South America and in some areas of North America. While their preferred prey source is birds, these bats also prey on other mammals like goats, cattle, pigs, and chickens. They detect prey with heat sensors located in their faces.
#22 Pygmy Round-Eared Bat
Desmodus – The pygmy bat, which is native to South and Central America, is an insectivorous bat that may sometimes consume fruit. This relatively common bat is classified as a least concern species by the IUCN.
#23 Rufous Horseshoe Bat
Aditya Joshi – This bat with bright-colored fur and a leaf-shaped face can be found in China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
#24 Ghost-Faced Bat
Alex Borisenko – Ghost-faced bats are not the most fun to look at. Honestly, it’s hard to even fathom what’s going on with that little face. Yet, they are still cute-looking creatures. These bats can be found inhabiting areas of southern New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Mexico, and Central America.
#25 Greater False Vampire Bat
The greater false vampire bat is a determined carnivore. It can capture prey from both ground and water, hunts from dusk till dawn, and can travel up to 4 kilometers. They prefer to feast on small birds, reptiles, fish, and large insects, and even other bats.
#26 Big-Eared Woolly Bat
Guilherme Garbino – Big-eared woolly bats are considered large, ranging from 100 to 112 mm in size. These industrious animals are known to help disperse seeds and keep insect populations under control, lowering the need for insecticide.
#27 Ghost Bat
Sardaka – Unsurprisingly, ghost bats, also known as “false vampire bats,” can only be found in Australia. No matter how spooky they look, they are harmless—but only to humans. This species preys on large vertebrates, such as birds, reptiles, and other mammals. Ghost bats take their prey off the ground by enveloping it with their wings and killing with bites to the neck.
#28 Smaller Horseshoe Bat
Tolga Bat Hospital – This peculiar creature is called a smaller horseshoe bat and can be encountered in Australia and Papua New Guinea. Horseshoe bats weigh around 7 to 13 grams and are only 44–53 millimeters in length.
#29 Jamaican Fruit Bat
The Jamaican fruit bat can be found in Mexico, through Central America to northwestern South America, as well as the Greater and many of the Lesser Antilles. This medium-sized bat has a length of 78–89 mm and no tail.
#30 Lesser Mouse-Tailed Bat
Soumyasarkar14 – The lesser mouse-tailed bat looks a little like a mouse, except a lot creepier. It is covered in soft fur all over its body, but not on its face, rear abdomen, or rump. This bat prefers to inhabit deserts, thus it is most commonly found in Thailand westward through Burma, India, Pakistan, and Iran.