How much do you know about bats?

dwarf fruit bat
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These night fliers are creatures of myth and mystery, and yet they're an invaluable part of ecosystems worldwide. Test your knowledge about these fascinating creatures in this quiz.

Question 1 of 18

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bats flying over trees
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How many species of bats are there around the world?

Estimates vary on how many bat species exist around the world, but experts all fall in a range somewhere between 950 and 1,200. The variation is caused primarily by disagreement about which bats are their own species and which are subspecies. Either way, it's a lot of species! In fact, bats make up between 20-25 percent of all mammals in the world. In the United States alone, there are about 45 species of bat.

Question 2 of 18

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bats flying at sunset
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This city is home to the largest urban population of Mexican free-tailed bats in North America:

Every summer, about 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats take shelter under Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, just 10 blocks south of the Texas State Capitol. This species takes advantage of man-made structures like bridges as roosts, and apparently this particular bridge is a favorite. Every single night, they eat between 5 to 15 tons of insects, and every year, they attract about 100,000 tourists who come specifically to watch them fly out at sunset. All in all, they're a huge boon for Austin residents.

Question 3 of 18

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bat flying
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Bats are the only mammals that can fly.

Other mammals have "flying" in their names (like flying squirrels or flying lemurs), but these animals really just glide using flaps of skin they stretch out as parachutes. Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight.

Question 4 of 18

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bats hanging
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Bats are mammals belonging to the order Chiroptera, a Greek name meaning:

Chiroptera means "hand-wing," which is exactly what bats have. The wings are made up of extremely elongated fingers — anatomically, they resemble a human hand — with a thin membrane stretched between the digits. They essentially fly by flapping their hands.

Question 5 of 18

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horseshoe bat
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To locate prey, insectivorous bats use:

To locate prey, bats emit a series of supersonic cries. The sound waves bounce off insects that fly by and are returned to the bat, which can then use that echo to zero in on the prey.

Question 6 of 18

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flying fox
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Fruit bats are also known as:

Bats are divided into two groups, megabats and microbats. While microbats are the species we usually think of when we picture bats roosting in caves and echolocating to catch insects, megabats are large bats with elongated faces (in fact they look a bit like foxes) that feed on nectar, blossoms, pollen and fruit. So when talking about fruit bats, you're also talking about flying foxes and megabats. They're the same thing.

Question 7 of 18

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brown bat
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Bats are blind.

All bats have eyes and can see. However, most species rely either on sound or smell to direct them to food.

Question 8 of 18

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vampire bat
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Vampires of lore were named after the bat species infamous for sucking blood.

Vampire bats are found in Central and South America and were first known to science after explorers arrived in the New World in the 1500s. Meanwhile the legend of vampires originated in eastern Europe all the way back in the medieval age. So it's the other way around: vampire bats actually get their name from the myths about a corpse that comes back to life to suck the blood of the living. And the name only sort of fits — vampire bats feed mainly on the blood of livestock and wild mammals like deer, not on humans. They lap up blood from a small incision, they don't actually suck blood.

Question 9 of 18

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dwarf fruit bat
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Bats can live to be:

Bat mortality is relatively high, but if a baby bat makes it securely into adulthood and dodges disease and parasites, it can live a long time. Most bat species live between 10 and 20 years, though there have been documented cases of bats living to as old as 30 years old, and there was even one Brandt's bat recaptured in Europe in 2013 that was 41 years old, making it the oldest known bat! Considering most other mammals of a similarly small size live only for a couple years, bats have a remarkable life span.

Question 10 of 18

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bats in cave
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How many insects can an average bat eat in a single night?

A single insect-eating bat can consume several thousand insects in an evening, eating the equivalent of its body weight every single night. In fact, a single brown bat can catch as many as 1,200 small insects in an hour.

Question 11 of 18

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bats over crop
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For their help in pest control, bats are worth how much to U.S. agriculture?

Experts have estimated that bats provide pest-control services worth at least $3.7 billion annually. Researchers from the University of Pretoria, the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Tennessee and Boston University concluded that the number lies somewhere between $3.7 billion and $53 billion when you consider the amount saved on commercial pesticides (though they note that their study did not take into account the significant cost to ecosystems of applying pesticides, which would bump up the value of the bats' services even higher).

Question 12 of 18

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One of the biggest threats to North American bats is a fungus called:

Bats in the Northeast have taken a serious hit due to white nose syndrome, a fungus that covers the nose, ears and wings of hibernating bats and ultimately causes their deaths. The fungus has killed more than 5.7 million bats so far and has spread south and west; the disease is now present in 16 states and three Canadian provinces. White nose syndrome has had such devastating effects on the little brown bat species that scientists are expecting the species to disappear from the Northeast entirely within 20 years unless researchers can find a way to halt the spread of the disease.

Question 13 of 18

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bat flying
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The largest species of bat in the world is:

Flying foxes are the largest bats in the world, and among that group, the largest of all is the giant golden-crowned flying fox also known as the golden-capped fruit bat, which has a wingspan of between 5-5.5 feet and weighs between 1.5-2.6 pounds. It is an endangered species at risk of extinction due to poaching and loss of forest habitat. (And in case you were curious, the smallest bat species is the Kitti's hog-nosed bat also known as the bumblebee bat, which measures a mere 1.1-1.3 inches from tip of the nose to tip of the tail and weighs only 2 grams.

Question 14 of 18

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bat with baby
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How many babies do female bats birth each year?

Female bats give birth to only a single pup each year. Most small mammals give birth to much larger litters, but bats invest a ton of energy in feeding and caring for their offspring, so one is as much as a mother can handle. And because bats birth only a single baby each year, they are particularly vulnerable to population declines since they cannot quickly replenish their numbers.

Question 15 of 18

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bulldog bat
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What unusual prey does the bulldog bat eat?

Some bat species want to go beyond insects for food, going for frogs, small reptiles and birds. But some specialize in fish, including the bulldog bat, Noctilio leporinus. This species is found in Central and South America. It's not known exactly how the bats find this food, but some experts theorize that they use echolocation to detect ripples in the water made by fish. What is known is that the bats use hooked claws and sharp teeth to snag the fish, biting through the skull to kill it and gulping it down in the blink of an eye.

Question 16 of 18

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wind turbines
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Wind turbines are known to cause a high number of bat deaths due to:

Wind turbines are known to cause the death of bats in two ways. First is the obvious — collision with spinning blades. The second way, however, is less well known — lung damage caused by pressure changes that bats undergo when they're flying near spinning turbine blades. The damage causes internal bleeding and death. Combined, the two circumstances result in the deaths of between 600,000-900,000 bats each year.

Question 17 of 18

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bat sleeping
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What is the most endangered species of bat?

Bulmer's fruit bat is found in only one cave in Papua New Guinea, where there are about 160 individuals left. It is the most endangered of the more than 250 species listed as endangered or vulnerable. More than 50 percent of the bat species found in the United States are undergoing severe decline or are listed as endangered.

Question 18 of 18

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tent-making bats
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These little guys are called great fruit-eating bats, and they fall into a category of bats known as:

Only a handful of bat species are known to make their own roosts, and they make them by modifying leaves on trees. They take a single large leaf and make small bites to bend it into the shape of a tent, which both hides the bat from predators and protects it from rain and weather. Tent-making bats seem to be polygynous, with one male defending a small harem of five to 15 females. They roost together during the mating season, and then separate with bachelor males in their own tents and females with young forming groups in other tents. Other examples of tent-making bat species are the Honduran white bat (or cotton-ball bat) and the common tent-making bat.

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dwarf fruit bat
Photo: Ivan Kuzmin/Shutterstock