16 Incredible Pictures Show the Beauty of Bats

In honour of Bat Appreciation Day, see up-close photos of these majestic flying mammals.

Few animals have captured the imagination like bats. From superheroes to vampires, bats' unique characteristics have inspired fascination for centuries, but in real life, they play a critical role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

In addition to controlling bug populations, bats are a critical source of pollination. In the Southwest U.S. and in Mexico, they pollinate agave plants, making them essential for tequila production.

Bats have uniquely adapted to their environment. It's a common misconception that they're blind (and in fact they see three times better than people), but during the night they rely primarily on their ears. Their screeches allow them to echolocate, or create a sonar map of their surroundings.

With the heaviest wings of any flying animal, bats have developed unique acrobatics to land upside down in their resting position. With one wing pulled close to its body and the other extended, a bat uses inertia to swing upside down in only a fraction of a second.

Bat Appreciation Day, which falls on April 17, puts a spotlight on the flying mammals. The U.S. Department of Energy uses the seemingly playful holiday to highlight the issues facing the nation's bat populations.

Fatalities caused by wind turbines have become increasingly common since the increased use of wind energy. As many as hundreds of thousands of migratory bats may be dying every year because of wind turbines. Bats, which use sonar to navigate, collide with turbine blades when they fly too close.

Reducing wind turbine speeds during peak migration and broadcasting ultrasonic sounds have helped mitigate the number of bats killed annually. However, many bats still face threats from urban sprawl and white-nose syndrome, a fungus that grows on bats during winter hibernation and can lead to their starvation.

A big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

Egyptian fruit bats at a huge bat cave near Jacana Lodge in the Maramagambo Forest. The bats here have tested to have the Marburg virus.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A large flying fox, Pteropus vampyrus, at the Columbus Zoo.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

Naked-tailed bats (Molossidae family) from Chitengo Camp in GNP
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

Yuma myotis, Myotis yumanensis, at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, Washington.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

An Indian flying fox, Pteropus giganteus, at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A critically endangered Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus).
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A Townsend's big-eared bat, Corynorhinus townsendii, at the Sulphur Creek Nature Center.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A hoary bat, Lasiurus cinereus, at the Sulphur Creek Nature Center.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A greater fruit-eating bat, Artibeus lituratus, at the Lubee Bat Conservancy in Gainesville, Florida.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

An island flying fox, Pteropus hypomelanus.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A female Eastern red bat, Lasiurus borealis, in Florida.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A greater spear-nosed fruit bat, Phyllostomus hastatus, at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A Kuhl's pipistrelle bat, Pipistrellus kuhlii kuhlii, at Centro Fauna Selvatica "Il Pettirosso."
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

A lesser short-nosed fruit bat, Cynopterus brachyotis, at the Lubee Bat Conservancy in Gainesville, Florida.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

 

Header Image: A long-haired rousette, Rousettus lanosus, at the Lincoln Children's Zoo. PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

 

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