Order Chiroptera: Bats- largest number of species of any group of mammals

Bats have the largest number of species of any group of mammals, as many as 1,200 species. All of these bats are found in the order Chiroptera. Chiroptera contains the two suborders Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera. Megachiroptera contains the Old World fruit-eating bats which Microchiroptera contains the so-called echolocating bats. Recently researcher discovered the Old World fruit-eating bats actually use a very basic method of echolocating themselves, they use sonar clicks from their wings to help them navigate at night. The echolocating bats are found on every continent except Antartica. Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera differ from each other by their soft tissue structures. Member of Microchiroptera have a tragus, which is basically a fold of the inner ear. They also have an internal complex echolocation system. BEcause the difference between the two suborders is found in soft tissue organs the natural history of these differences is unknown because soft tissue doesn’t leave a fossil record. Megachiroptera only contains the family Pteropodidae. Microchiroptera contains 7 subfamilies; Emballonuroidea, Rhinopomatoidea, Rhinopomatidae, Rhinolophoidea, Vespertilionoidea, Molossoidea, Nataloidea, and Noctilionoidea. These are further broken down into at least 17 families. I am going to go over one family from each subfamily.

An example of a tragus on a bat.

  • Family Pteropodidae
    • the only family in Megachiroptera
    • these fruit-eating bats are some of the largest bats
    • most members of this group have large eyes which help them to see in twilight
    • while some species eat fruit, some also consume nectar, making them pollinators, some species like the South African sausage tree (Kigelia pinnata), are pollinated only by bats
    • roast in trees and shrubs, not caves
    • have been found to be carriers of the Ebola virus
    • the now endangered giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus) is the largest bat and a member of this family, it weighs only 3.3 lbs but can have a wingspan of 6 ft


  • Family Emballonuroide
    • this family contains some of the smallest bat species
    • found in tropical and sub-tropical regions all over the world
    • they are also called the sac-winged bats because they have a sac on their wings that may release pheromones into the air to attract mates and mark their territory
    • some call this family the sheath-tailed bats because their tail looks like it is in a sheath
    • some members live in harems of 1-8 females, or large groups, while others are solidarity
    • most feed on insects but some feed on fruit
    • in addition to using echolocation to hunt, there is evidence that members of this family use echolocation to communicate with each other
Pacific sheath-tailed bat (Emballonura semicaudata)
  •  family Rhinopomatidae
    • Rhinopomatidae are also called the mouse-tailed bats due to their mouse like tail
    • this family only 6 species in it
    • all found in the old world
    • their body length is between 5 and 6 centimeters
    • these bats like in deserts so they are adapted to live in environments with low humidity and high temperatures
    • they live in very large roosts, including some individuals that roost in the Egyptian pyramids and have done so for over 3,000 years
Greater mouse-tailed bat (Rhinopoma_microphyllum)
  •  family Rhinolophidae
    • this family is also called the horseshoe bats, named after their odd-shaped leaflike structures on their nose that they use to aid in echolocation
    • these structures are commonly used to identify the species of bat
    • they live in the tropical and temperate forests of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia
    • these bats like a wide variety of roosts which range from caves to free hanging in trees
    • recent genetic evidence suggests that these bats are most closely related to Pteropodidae, rather than the Microchiroptera bats they used to be associated with
    • four species of this family were linked to the SARS outbreak in 2002 to 2004
    • all species are insectivorous and either hawk insects in flight or gather them over the surface of a water body
    • all species are also monestrous, meaning that they only have one reproductive cycle per year
Rüppell’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus fumigatus)
  • family Vespertilionidae
    • this is the largest and best-known family of bats
    • they are also called common bats, or vesper bats (vesper is Latin for evening), or evening bats
    • this family is found on every continent except for Antarctica and has over 407 species
    • they have colonized many oceanic islands
    • it is the second largest family of mammals, surpassed only by Muridae which contains rats and mice
    • except for the genus Myotis, Pizonyx, and Nyctalus, the bats are insectivores
    • Myotis and Pizonyx are larger bats and therefore they eat fish, while Nyctalus consumes passerine birds in flight
    • they lack the nasal features that “beam” echolocations so they shout these beams through their open mouths in flight
    • roosts and colony size vary greatly
Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)
  • family Molossodae
    • this family also called the free-tailed bats due to the bone tail that they have
    • often these bats crawl backward on the ground and use their tail to feel
    • the wings and tails are tough and leathery
    • because of their long narrow wings, they need lots of room for takeoff so they often fall a long distance from their roosts to take off
    • they are all insectivores species
    • they can be solitary or live in large roosts, these large roosts leave at dusk, this is most famous example being the Mexican-free tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) in Austin, TX
Mexican Free-Tailed Bats
  • family Natalidae
    • this family of 5 species is also called the funnel ear bats
    • they are found in tropical lowlands from Mexico to Brazil
    • they feed only on small insects
    • these bats live in caves
Mexican funnel-eared bat (Natalus stramineus)
  • family Noctilionidae
    • there are only two species in this family; the greater (Noctilio albiventris) and the lesser bulldog bats (Noctilio leporinus)
    • they are found from Mexico to Argentina and the Caribbean Islands near water bodies
    • the bats are well-known to smell bad, like fish
    • while both bats eat insects, the greater bulldog also eats fish, crustaceans, and frogs
    • they have cheek pouches in which they can store food
Lesser bulldog bat (Noctilio leporinus)

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