Missouri Bats

Missouri is home to 14 kinds of bats. Although they are sometimes referred to as flying mice, bats are not rodents. They belong to a group of mammals called chiroptera, meaning "hand-wing," and are the only mammals that can fly.

The number and arrangement of bones in a bat's wing are the same as those of the human arm and hand. However, bat "finger bones" are greatly elongated and connected by a double membrane of skin that forms the wing.

Bats are clean, shy and intelligent creatures. They occupy almost every habitat worldwide and are the primary predator of many insect pests that cause millions of dollars of damage to farms and forests annually.

Bats of the World

There are almost 1,000 different kinds of bats, which comprise nearly one-quarter of all mammal species. Worldwide, bats vary in size from only slightly more than 2 grams to more than 2 pounds. The largest bats are called flying foxes and have a wing span up to 6 feet. Flying foxes live in southern Africa, India, islands of the South Pacific and northern Australia. Missouri bats range in size from 2 grams (1/10 ounce) to 42 grams (1 ounce). The largest bat in Missouri, the hoary bat, has a wing span up to 16 inches.

Bats in other parts of the world feed on a variety of food items. Many species feed primarily on fruit, while others feed on nectar and pollen. Some species eat the flesh of other animals, including fish, mice, birds, frogs, scorpions and even other bats. The most famous group of bats are the vampire bats of Mexico, Central America and South America; they feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals.

How Bats Eat

All Missouri bats feed exclusively on flying insects. Bats capture insects with their mouths or by scooping them into their wing or tail membranes. After scooping an insect up, the bat reaches down and takes it into its mouth. This method of feeding causes the darting and swooping motions that people associate with bats flying around lights near their homes at night. Because their insect prey also are flying, bats must maneuver and change directions quickly.

In addition to visually detecting prey, bats also rely on echolocation, a form of sonar. Bats emit pulses of high frequency sounds at a rate of a few to 200 per second. By listening to the echoes reflected back to them, they are able to "see" prey