Bat Facts: The Biggest Bat in the World, and More

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Bats are one of the animals that people expect to find while caving. The bat is a fascinating creature, and have plenty of interesting facts about them that you might not know. In this article, you’re bound to learn something new.

Depending on where you go, you might be stumbling upon the habitat of a few or a few hundred thousand bats. And depending on how you feel about them, this could be exciting or terrifying. But once you understand that these are sophisticated creatures that wish you no harm, you should feel better during an encounter in a wild cave.

The Flying Mammal

A woman holds the biggest bat in the world, the giant golden-crowned flying fox.
Giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus)

Bats are incredibly diverse, with over 1,400 species worldwide. They belong to the order Chiroptera, which is further divided into two suborders: Megachiroptera (large fruit bats or flying foxes) and Microchiroptera (small insect-eating bats). These are also called megabats and microbats for short.

You might have already known that bats are technically mammals. Despite often being mistaken for some kind of bird, this is one of the bat facts most people are aware of. But did you know that they’re the only mammals capable of sustained flight? Their wings are not covered in feathers like most flying animals, but rather skin stretched between elongated finger bones.

The Biggest and the Smallest Bat in the World

The biggest bat in the world is the giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus). You probably picture bats as being roughly the size of pigeons, and many are smaller than that. But the giant golden-crowned flying fox boasts a wingspan of up to 5.6 feet (1.7 meters), weighing around 2.6 pounds (1.2 kilograms).

An image shows a bumblebee bat sitting atop someone's index finger, for a depiction of how this smallest bat in the world looks.
Bumblebee bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai)

These bats are native to the Philippines and are known for their striking golden fur. I’d say they’re more known for being the biggest bats in the world, because they really are ridiculously large.

On the other hand, the smallest known bat title belongs to the bumblebee bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai). Also known as Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, it’s one of the smallest mammals in the world. It weighs only about 0.07 ounces (2 grams) and has a wingspan of approximately 6 inches (15 centimeters).

Unfortunately, the biggest bat in the world is also an endangered species as of 2016. Don’t expect to find one very easily if you go looking for them, and if you do, please don’t disturb them!

The Fastest Bat in the World

We can’t have facts about the biggest bat in the world without also mentioning the fastest! The Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) holds this record. This bat can clock up to 99 miles (160 km) per hour flying horizontally. Some of the fastest animals, like the cheetah, pronghorn antelope, and greyhound cannot maintain a speed anywhere near this. Cheetahs run for about 70 miles (112 km) per hour in short bursts, while the antelope and greyhound top out at 55 and 45 miles (88/72 km) per respectively.

When it comes to flying, the fastest bird is the Peregrine Falcon, which flies at over 240 miles (386 km) per hour when hunting, using a high-speed diving technique. This is different from horizontal flight, but a few birds still have the Free-Tailed Bat beat.

An image of the Mexican Free-Tailed Bat (tadarida brasiliensis) in flight.
Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)

A Long Life

The average bat lives about 10-20 years, which is comparable to some pets people are familiar with. But a couple bats have been documented as having lived longer than 30 years.

Back in 2005, one bat in particular was caught 41 years after first being banded. This male Brandt’s bat (Myotis brandtii), shown below, set a record for longevity among small mammals. Brandt’s bats are found throughout England and Wales, in areas closer to water. Until this discovery, it was thought that most bats couldn’t live longer than about 30 years.

An image of a Brandt's Bat flying toward the camera with its mouth open and fangs showing.
Brandt’s bat (Myotis brandtii)

Bats Play a Vital Role in Pollination and Pest Control

You might know that bees are crucial for pollination, which maintains healthy ecosystems on a scale that’s impossible to understate. Bats do something similar, feeding on nectar and pollen and transferring these resources between flowers.

When they’re not feasting on nectar, they’re using echolocation to navigate and find their prey. Echolocation involves emitting high-frequency sounds and then listening for the echoes. It’s very interesting how this happens. Birds learn their songs from mimicking their parents or companions, and lions learn to hunt. Bats, however, seem to be born already knowing how to echolocate, and knowing the speed of sound.

If you’re frightened of bats, it’s understandable. But much like most spiders, bats contribute to controlling insect populations. A single bat can consume thousands of insects in a single night, helping to keep pest populations in check.

The Largest Bat Colony in the World

If you’re looking for the biggest bat colony in the world, you’ll need to head over to Bracken Cave in Texas, USA. This bat colony is one of the most spectacular destinations, and people go every year to watch them flying in the evening. There are millions of Mexican free-tailed bats here, and these are the same bats that can reach almost 100 miles (160 km) per hour during flight.

Caves provide important roosting habitats for many bat species. They offer protection from predators, stable temperatures, and relative humidity, which are crucial for their survival. At Bracken Cave, these millions of bats find comfort and protection from the outside.

An image of the Mexican Free-tailed bat, which is a member of the largest bat colony in the world.
Mexican free-tailed bat

On the other hand, the Australian region is home to the largest bat colony in the Southern Hemisphere. The Grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) forms massive colonies with tens of thousands of individuals.

Grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)

Group Hibernation

The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is an endangered species found primarily in the eastern and central parts of the United States. It is known for its unique social behavior, as large groups of Indiana bats hibernate together in caves during the winter months.

These cute creatures are tiny, fitting easily in the palm of your hand, and you can see one saying “cheese” below.

An image of a Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) held by a man between two fingers.
Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis)
A black-and-white photo of Dracula, one of the interesting tidbits of bat facts that came about in the late 1800s due to the novel "Dracula".

The Vampire Myth is Based on Reality…sort of

I don’t mean these bats live forever and transform into human beings. As far as I know, bats have never attacked a human’s neck specifically.

But the vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) is one of a few bat species that feed on blood. They primarily target large mammals, using specialized heat sensors to locate blood vessels close to the skin’s surface. While it’s unknown whether they’d attack humans and bite their necks, this

When these bats were first observed lapping up the blood of cattle in Central and South America they were quickly given the label of “vampires”. When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, depicting shapeshifting vampires, the imagery stuck.

Bats Display a Wide Variety of Evolutionary Features

The extra-long tongue of the Long-Tongued Bat is shown here.
Long-Tongued Bat (Glossophaga soricina)

Certain bat species have developed specialized adaptations to their diet. Some bats have elongated snouts and specialized tongues to feed on nectar from flowers, making them important pollinators. Others have evolved elongated jaws and teeth suited for capturing and consuming insects. For example, the long-tongued bat (Glossophaga soricina) has an elongated tongue with brush-like tips to extract nectar from flowers.

When it comes to echolocation, different bat species have variations in their echolocation calls, frequencies, and patterns. It’s similar to how some birds have their own songs, except bats seem to know this from birth.

Bats also have diverse wing morphologies that have evolved to suit their flight patterns and foraging behaviors. Some bats have long, narrow wings ideal for fast and agile flight. They can speed through the air and catch insects in flight accurately.

Others have broad wings suited for slower flight, more built for maneuvering in tighter environments like dense forests.

In addition to physical features, bats evolved various roosting and hibernation strategies depending on habitat and environmental conditions. Some species roost in caves. Others use trees, rock crevices, or even man-made structures. When you go caving, it’s likely you’ll encounter a certain type of bat more often than the others. Depending on the season, they may be hibernating in either large colonies or individually in small areas of caves or in trees.

Perception Depends on Culture

As with many things in our lives, perception comes down to the way cultures have developed. Some of these bat facts are grounded in science, but a lot of persisting beliefs really aren’t.

In some places, bats are considered symbols of good luck, while in others, they are associated with superstitions and fear. In Chinese culture, bats are associated with good fortune, prosperity, and happiness. The word for “bat” in Chinese (蝙蝠, biānfú) sounds similar to the word for “good fortune” (福, fú). As a result, many consider bats a popular symbol of luck and wealth. Images or representations of bats are often used to attract prosperity and good luck.

In addition, Native American tribes, such as the Hopi and Zuni, view bats as symbols of intuition, communication, and good fortune. Bats are believed to possess the power to navigate in the dark, representing the ability to see through illusions and find hidden truths.

But it’s not all positive PR for the winged mammal. In Western folklore and superstitions, bats are often associated with darkness, night, and death. They are sometimes seen as omens of misfortune, illness, or even death. The persistence of vampires in movies and literature doesn’t help much to alleviate these fears. Various legends and folklore contributed to the perception of bats as creatures of darkness and evil. Vampire stories often portray bats as blood-sucking creatures, and they’re almost always an antagonist, similar to a demon or other villain.

It’s not just the West. In certain African cultures, bats are seen as symbols of witchcraft or evil spirits. Their nocturnal nature and elusive behavior have contributed to the belief that they are associated with dark forces.


I hope you learned a couple new bat facts today. When you go caving, you’ll be more informed about the way bats like to live and contribute to their ecosystems. Don’t be scared – they will most likely fear you rather than attack you, but be respectful as well. Don’t disturb them by making loud noises or taking pictures if you happen to find some sleeping bats on your next trip.

If you’d like to learn about other interesting fauna (wildlife) that you might encounter while caving, check out this list next.

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