Widely regarded with fear and superstition,
have undeserved reputations as dirty and dangerous creatures that suck blood and spread disease. Yet in reality they're relatively benign, beneficial animals that play important roles in pollination and insect control.
Here are a few facts from the Smithsonian Institution,
and other places:
•Bats are the only mammals capable of flying through their own power. They are not rodents but rather unique animals that make up their own family of more than 1,110 species called "Chiroptera" or "hand-wing."
•All bats can see, and many see better than humans at night. Though most insect-eating bats find their prey through their acute sense of hearing and echolocation, others use their eyes and sense of smell to locate fruit and nectar.
•Vampire bats feed primarily on the blood of cattle, horses and chickens and rarely bite humans. Instead of sucking, they lap up blood from the small wounds they inflict — and they prefer to feed at the ankle or leg rather than the neck.
is found more often in skunks, raccoons, foxes and feral cats than in bats.
•Bats are regarded as symbols of happiness and good luck in China.
•The wingspan of the biggest bat — the giant flying fox — can measure nearly 6 feet across. The smallest bat — known as the bumblebee bat — weighs less than a penny.
•In addition to bats that eat insects or fruit, some species hunt and eat fish, lizards or frogs. Others eat pollen, nectar and flowers.
•Bats are extremely clean and can spend hours grooming and licking themselves and their neighbors.