National Wildlife Refuge System

Bats: Spooky and Special

Gray Bats
As many as one million gray bats hibernate in Fern Cave Refuge, AL
Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Volunteers
The northern long-eared bat is found across much of the eastern and north-central United States.
Credit: Al Hicks

Bravo, bats!  Did you know that without bats, we might not be able to enjoy such foods as peanut butter, chocolate, bananas, bread, French fries, ketchup or orange juice? 

There are more than 1,100 species of bats and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.  Only three species of bats suck blood. Most eat insects – small bats can eat up to 2,000 insects every night, saving many crops from being destroyed. 

About 30 percent of bat species eat fruit, pollen or nectar. Bananas, dates, coconut, cloves, vanilla, Brazil nuts and avocados all depend on bats for pollination.  Bats help spread seeds for nuts, figs, allspice and cacao, from which chocolate is made.  Fruit bats eat the cacao fruit and discard the bean, which grows into a new tree.

Bat waste, or guano, is often harvested as a rich fertilizer.  We also make about 80 medicines from plants that rely on bats for their survival.

Alabama's Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge is the largest known hibernation cave for gray bats. Between 800,000 and one million gray bats winter here. Bat experts also believe as many as one million Indiana bats may be using Fern Cave. Another 300,000 gray bats roost in Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge, also in Alabama.

Check these links to find out more about bats:

Mexican long-nosed bat

Lesser long-nosed bat

Bats and other pollinators

World of pollinators poster, including the banana bat (pdf)

Building a backyard bat house (pdf)

Bats in Oklahoma

White-nose syndrome in bats

Refuge Update November-December 2010 on spread of white-nose syndrome (pdf)

Last updated: October 26, 2012