Do bats have habits? -Elliot 

Dear Elliot,

You are onto something. Quick, to the bat-lab! That’s where I met up with my friend Christine Portfors, a scientist at Washington State University who studies fruit bats.

Portfors explained that while bats don’t quite have habits like humans, they do have behaviors.

Bats are nocturnal. They sleep during the day and wake up in the early evening. The first thing they’ll do when they wake up is fly around and around their caves for a while.

We don’t know exactly why bats do this, but as they get ready to leave the cave, Portfors thinks they might be saying something along the lines of: “You go first. No, you go first. No, you go first.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 9.05.40 AMYou’d probably do the same thing if you weren’t sure what was lurking out in the dark. It could be a predator, and you could be the next meal.

After one brave bat finally leaves the cave, the colony follows and goes out in search of food. A few bat babysitters in the roost will stay behind to watch the pups.

A bat’s eyes don’t work very well in the dark, but their ears are very useful for navigating at night. Their call bounces off of—or echoes from—the world around them. My cat-ears can pick up on some of the bat squeaks and chirps, but the sound is too high-pitched for most humans to hear.

Bats listen for the echoes of their calls and it helps them find, or locate, objects around them. Some bats can even use this echolocation to tell the difference between all kinds of bugs.

Some bats eat insects, others eat fruit, but almost all have a good appetite. Some kinds of fruit bats will eat about three times their body weight in figs. Just one little brown bat can eat about 600 mosquitoes in an hour. Some of the fastest bats can catch insects and eat them in mid-flight while going up to 40 mph. Now, that’s fast food.

Some farmers will depend on bats to hunt for certain kinds of insects that cause serious damage to their fields. Just like birds and bees, bats can also help pollinate plants. In some tropical areas, bats even help with reforestation. When bats eat plants, flowers, and fruits, their droppings contain seeds that help spread and fertilize new plant life.

After an hour or two of searching for food, bats return to their roost. They are social animals, and living in big groups also helps keep their naturally cool habitats warm. The bats chatter back and forth, communicating with each other through their high-pitched sounds. Before dawn, bats will hunt one more time. Then they sleep all day — upside down, of course.

Hmm, I’m not sure if I should say “good night,” or “good morning” as they go to sleep. How about, “Until next time.”

Sincerely,

Dr. Universe