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Bats - Order Chiroptera

All bats belong to the order Chiroptera (hand-winged). There are 19 families, 178 genera and 926 species in the order Chiroptera, making it the the second largest mammalian order, which makes up around 20% of all known living mammal species.The term Chitoptera comes from two Greek words, "chiro", meaning "hand" and "ptera" meaning wing. Order Rodentia (rodents) is the most speciose group of mammals.

The order Chiroptera is divided into two main groups: megachiroptera, the large fruit eating bats (also known as "flying foxes" or "megabats") and the smaller microchiroptera ("microbats") that eat insects, blood, fish, lizards, birds and nectar. Microbats live worldwide, except for Antarctica and most of the arctic region. Most of the world's bats are microbats. Megabats include nearly 200 species and live in tropical regions.

Megachiroptera (Megabats)
Megabats consists of one family (Pteropodidae) and about 166 species. Megabats are also called fruit bats because they all feed primarily on plant material: fruit, nectar or pollen. The flower-eaters are usually small and have long pointed heads, long tongues, and the ability to hover and fly slowly. Some megabats will supplement their diets with insects. Megabats are also called flying foxes because they have big eyes for finding food and they have a face that looks somewhat like a fox.

Microchiroptera (Microbats)
Microbats consists of the remaining 18 families (around 759 species). Most of the species are are insectivorous. Fewer than 1% are carnivorous (feeding on rodents, other bats, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and even fish). And, three species in the family Phyllostomidae, subfamily Desmodontinae (vampire bat) feed on nothing but the blood of other vertebrates. The vampire bat is the only mammal that survives solely on the blood of animals (hematophagy).

All United States bats (except for three flower-eating species that migrate from Mexico), and 70 percent of the bat species worldwide, feed almost exclusively on insects. Insectivore bats forage near freshwater streams, lakes and ponds, preying on insects as they emerge from the water. They can eat more than 50% of their body weight in insects each night. Nursing females may eat their entire body weight each night-as many as 4,500 or more small insects, including insects which are agricultural pests or garden pests. Bats are the only major predators of night-flying insects.

Differences between Megabats and Microbats
Here are some of the key differences between megabats and microbats:

  • Megabats are found only in the Old World tropics. Microbats are much more broadly distributed.
  • Microbats use highly sophisticated echolocation for navigation and hunting. Megabats primarily using their eyes for navigation and finding food. The Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus egyptiacus) is an exception. it uses a simple form of echolocation that is nowhere near as sophisticated as the echolocation microbats use.
  • Microbats lack the claw at the second toe of the forelimb.
  • The ears of microbats don't form a closed ring, but the edges are separated from each other at the base of the ear.
  • Microbats lack the underfur; they have only guard hairs or are naked.
  • Megabats regulate their body temperature within a tight range of temperatures and none hibernates. The body temperature of microbats can change quite a bit, and some hibernate.

Why Bats are Nocturnal
Bats are mainly active at night. They leave their roosts just after sunset and come back before day break. Most flying insects fly at night. So, other than spiders, bats have no competition for food. Night time protects the bats agains predators. Other than an occasional owl or snake, most predators can't catch a bat at night. Bats have a thin wing membrane, which would make flying during the heat of the day hazardous due to excessive absorption of heat. This could cause the bat to overheat and possibly get dehydrated. The cooler night air protects the bat from the heat and helps it maintain its body temperature and moisture.

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