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Arkansas Flying Mammals

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Bats Are My Thing!

Bats are mammals, they have furry bodies and give birth to living young.  The pup (a baby bat) is fed on milk from mammary glands.  The bat (from the Middle English babbe, meaning to flutter) is a very unique mammal as it is the only mammal that can truly fly.  

There are 22 orders of living mammals in the class Mammalia.   Bats are the only organism which belong to the scientific order Chiroptera.  Admission to the Chiroptera, which means "with wings on their hands," depends upon a broad skin fold that extends from elongated fingers to body and legs.  The bat's wings are made of thin elastic membrane with muscles, know as patagium.  The wing contains long thin finger bones.  The patagium extends to the fingers, hind feet, and tail, although the tail is sometimes excluded. The thumb of a bat is like a claw; it is used to help the bat move across rough surfaces of cave walls or tree bark.  When resting, bats hang upside down clutching a support with the clawed toes of the hind feet.  Contrary to popular belief, bats can climb and crawl and are not helpless on the ground or in the water and some insectivorous species feed on ground-dwelling insects as much or more than they feed on insects captured in flight.

The Chiroptera is divided into two different groups.  The Megachiroptera (greater bats) are found in old World Tropics, referred to as flying foxes because of their fox like faces.  The  Microchiroptera (lesser bats) are found worldwide and are highly varied in appearance. Bats live on every continent except Antarctica.  Most bats live in hot climates.  Those that live in cooler lands hibernate during the winter or migrate to a warmer place

Most bats fly at night because they are noctural, they are thus able to avoid many predators. Cats, dogs, raccoons, and skunks eat bats.  So do owls, hawks, falcons, snakes .  Even worse, "some bats eat other bats!."  During the daylight hours they sleep.  Caves make good roosting places because they are dark and quiet.  But trees, bushes, barns, fence posts, old washboards, and buildings can also make  good roosting places."

There are sixteen species of  bats found in Arkansas.  All but one species belong to the Family Vespertilionidae.  Bats differ in coloration, size and wing span, however, all bats have shared characteristics which include hair, echolocation and modified forelimbs which serve as wings.

Arkansas bats vary in size from less than three grams(a small footed bat during hibernation) to 35 grams.  The largest Arkansas bat, the hoary bat, has a wingspan of  approximately sixteen inches.

Most Arkansas bats breed in the autumn and the female stores sperm until the following spring when fertilization takes place.  The gestation period lasts only a few weeks and  the baby bat, called a pup, is born in May or June. 

Arkansas bats feed almost exclusively on insects.  Insect-eating bats keep the bug population under control.  In just one hour a small bat can eat 600 moths, mosquitoes, and other insects.   Believe it or not, bats help the environment and they need to be protected.

There are over a thousand different species of  bats.  They range from bats that eat moths, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, mosquitoes, mayflies, midgets and other night-flying insects, to bats that feed only on fruits and flower nector. Some are carnivorous, these bats will eat birds, mice, frogs, fish, scorpions, and other bats. Vampire bats really do drink blood  from animals, but not people.  Bats use a fine tuned natural sonar, called echolocation, for navigating, communicating ,and finding food. 

Because so many people dislike and fear bats, these animals are often the targets of human efforts to destroy them or the places where they live.  However, there are places where bats are not persecuted by humans.  In England and in many European countries, bats are widely recognized as beneficial; and people build bat houses in yards and parks to attract these flying mammals.  Only when human beings all over the world understand how much good bats do will these fascinating animals be free to live their quiet lives in peace and safety.

Project Author: Jewel Kelley

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