Which Mammals Can Fly?


I saw a comment recently by someone who said that there were no mammals that could fly, or they wouldn’t be mammals, which I knew was incorrect. Although there are not many mammals that can fly, there is one family of mammals that can.

There are over 1,100 species of bat in the world, and they can all fly. There are currently 40 species of bat in North America.

If you have ever wanted to know more about how bats fly, then I have some information here you may like.

Have Mammals Evolved to Fly? 

Over time, many animals have evolved to include aerial locomotion. Some of them have achieved this by either flying or gliding. Many people still wonder whether any mammals can fly. In this article, we will take a look at which mammals fly and establish how they manage it. 

Bats evolved a long time ago. For more information on how and when they evolved, I have written this article.

The World’s Only Flying Mammals

Have you ever tried to contemplate whether any other animals can fly apart from birds? Yes, maybe you would have thought of dragons, but now we have a specific category of the only mammal that can fly in the world.

Two Types Of Flight

Before we continue, we have to determine the difference between the two types of flight. These are powered flight and gliding. 

Powered (True) Flight

Powered flight is also known as true flight. Most birds, insects and bats are capable of powered flight. Powered flight is completed by the flapping of their wings, to keep them aloft.

Evolution has adapted these animals by modifying their front limbs into wings, shortening their torso, enlarging their heart and thorax, improving their vision and lightening their bones.

Gliding

Many people think that flying possums and flying squirrels can fly. This is often confusing because these animals have names that suggest they can. They do not fly; however, they use the second type of flight. Mammals such as these glide for short, limited distances.  

Soaring

There are two types of gliding. These are soaring and gravitational gliding. Soaring is gliding without using any power input. Many birds soar, such as eagles, and they do this by gliding into a column of air that is rising faster than the animal is descending.

Gravitational Gliding

If an animal is using gravitational gliding, then they can direct where they want to go. An animal, such as a flying squirrel will jump in the direction it wants to glide, although they can also use the membrane between the front and back limbs to act as a parachute.   

The only mammals that can fly using powered flight are the many species of bat. Bats are capable of powered flight which means they can fly long distances. 

Etymology

Bats belong to the order Chiroptera. Chiroptera comes from a Greek word meaning hand and wing. Hand in Greek is “cheir”, and wing is “pteron”. 

Adaptations to Flight

The bones of the arm on the bat, and four of the fingers are slender, lighter and lengthened. These are the bat’s main adaptation for flight.

The wings are also covered by a thin membrane called the patagium. 

The patagium is a membrane that connects the forelimbs and hind limbs. 

The membrane makes it easier for the bat to maneuver more natural and faster than most birds. The arms are used to support, spread and manipulate the membrane. To enable the bat to fly, the forelimbs of bats developed as wings.

The thumb of the bat is not attached to the wing. The thumb remains free for clinging to surfaces. This comes in especially helpful when the bat is sleeping. A fantastic thing about bats is that their hind limbs bend backwards while their feet face forward. 

How do Bats Fly? 

Bats can fly because of the flexibility of their finger bones. The finger bones have a flat cross-section. They also have low calcium levels on the tips, which makes them flexible. The lower calcium levels also make it easier to navigate.  

The bones in the wings of bats have a lower breaking stress point than ordinary flying creatures, including birds. This enables the bat to maneuver quickly and in ways that birds and insects cannot.  

The wings are made up of elongated membranes that are quite delicate and can tear easily. Even though this could be a problem, bats have specialized hormones. These hormones make the healing process very fast and easy for the bat.

Bats are also flexible, and this is another reason why their manoeuvrability is excellent, even through sharp angles.

Can Bats Take off From the Ground?

Some species of bats can take off from the ground. However, those with longer, narrower wings will never take off from the ground.  

A large majority of bat species cannot take off from ground level. These species of bats will hang to a cliff or a tree. By doing this, they can take off from that position. When a bat is launching itself, they will drop from the hanging position before flying.  

Some species of bats, such as the horseshoe bat and vampire bats can take off from the ground. These species descend to the ground in the search for food.

To land, these species of bats land by decelerating their speed until they stall. They will then hold onto a branch or any other suitable surface, before dropping lower.

Vampire bats feed on the blood of mammals. This bat usually feeds on large sleeping animals. They use their razor-sharp teeth to cut into the flesh and to suck out the blood. The vampire bats have to land close to ground level to feed on the prey.

Vampire bats and other species of bat which prey on terrestrial mammals, or feed on flowers can also hover. 

Can Bats Walk on the Ground?

Several species of bats can move around while on the ground. The first digit on the wing of the bat is small in size but has a claw. It is similar to the human thumb.

These species use the first digit when climbing or walking on the ground. They also have stronger forelimbs and weak hind legs which allow them to crawl on the ground successfully. 

Most species of bat that are insectivores have this adaptation. These species tend to feed on both ground and flying insects.

For this reason, they need to be able to crawl or move around on the ground while searching for food. Common vampire bats are also able to get around very well on the ground level.

Bat sizes and population

Among all the available species, the smallest bats are Kitti’s long-nosed varieties that have wings as long as 5.91 inches. The largest of all is the giant golden-crowned flying fox. They usually grow to about 1.6 kg with wings as long as 1.7 meters. 

According to statistics, there are 1,100 species of bats in the world, and of these, 40 species live in the U.S. They are small in physical size but have a large wingspan. Bats, as well as insects and birds, make up a large number of species, as well as a large number of individuals. This is the main reason why flying animals are among the most successful throughout time.

Why do Bats Fly Low?

You may have seen bats flying low over your head. This is so that they can feed on insects that are generally at that level. If you are in a swimming pool or walking around a lake at night, many insects are flying around. Bats feed on these insects, although you may think they are coming for you.

How do Bats Navigate When Flying?

When they are flying at night, bats use echolocation to notice barriers and predators.  Bats use echolocation due to their speed and maneuverability while flying.     

A lot of people think that bats are blind, but this is not true. Bats can see almost as well as humans.

Echolocation is a mechanism where bats emit ultrasonic sounds which moments later sends echoes. When the echo comes back to the bat, they can easily detect and locate an obstacle or predator.

Why are Bats Becoming Extinct? 

Bats populations are drastically declining because of several factors. First and foremost, in some parts of the world, bats are not welcome. 

Although they are considered signs of good fortune in many societies in the world, there are many misconceptions about bats. Some cultures claim that they bring bad omens and diseases. Therefore, they are not protected in the right way. 

The bat’s population is highly threatened by loss of habitat, climate change, and constant attacks from predators and humans. They are also affected by a deadly fungus called white-nose syndrome.

Bats are very beneficial and influential in controlling the ecosystem. Bats are great pollinators concerning seed dispersion, fruit dispersion, and in controlling and eliminating crop-destroying insects.

Do bats live in the cold conditions of Alaska? Find out in this article I have written here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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